Exploring the diversity of infectious diseases

We are interested in variation in pathogens and the disease they cause. 

How and why did this variation this arise? What are the consequences on this variation for host and ecosystem health? 

Read on to understand more about current research themes, study systems and approaches.

Pathogen
life history
traits

Infection 
dynamics 

(or the course of an infection)

Host immune response regulation & organization

Daphnia are small, globally-distributed invertebrates that are essential to the cycling of resources in aquatic ecosystems and are a longstanding model organism in evolutionary biology, toxicology and, increasingly, biomedicine. They are subject to infection by a variety of pathogens, which occur in MSU's local area.

For these reasons, Daphnia and their parasites are a highly tractable system with which to study evolutionary dynamics and host-parasite-resource interactions. In particular, because it is easy to see offspring and pathogens developing inside the transparent Daphnia, and their pathogens readily transmit in the laboratory, this system is ideal for studying host/pathogen fitness (and hence evolution).

 

We are developing methods to a) study within-host dynamics using this system and b) perform experiments at high throughput, so that it can be used to explore how interactions between a single host and pathogen scale to epidemic and ecosystem dynamics.

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Bacterial pathogens of zooplankton

Malaria parasites are a hugely diverse group of protozoan parasites, the human species of which infect millions of people a year and kill hundreds of thousands. As a result, much is known about i) their ecology & evolution, and ii) their biochemistry, immunology and treatment. On the other hand, the physiology and immunity of mice is incredibly well understood.

For these reasons, the mouse model of malaria represents a highly tractable system with which to investigate the impact of parasite trait variation on within-host dynamics, as well as the regulation of the vertebrate immune system. In particular, this system gives us the ability to precisely manipulate parasite and host traits and cellular population dynamics.

We are further integrating molecular approaches used in biomedical studies of human malaria, with the organismal perspective of eco-evolutionary biology, to use this system to better variation in individual host health and pathogen traits.

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Malaria parasites of
rodents

Study systems