How do viruses evolve in response to selection from the innate immune system?
Using the naturally occurring viral pathogens of an innate immunity model (Drosophila), this project will use a population-genetics approach to address questions relating to:
(1) the population history and dynamics of viral pathogens,
(2) the emergence of new viral diseases,
(3) how viral genomes are shaped by selection.
In doing so, it will provide a co-evolutionary context for studies of viral disease and innate immunity in Drosophila. This will allow us to capitalize on this model to understand the origins and evolution of infectious disease.
Immune systems drive the evolution of pathogens: any pathogen strain that escapes or overcomes host immunity has an advantage over its competitors and will spread. Studying the co-evolutionary process between the immune system and pathogens is important, as it might help us to understand how, why, and when, infectious diseases occur.
The effect of our ‘adaptive’ immune system (which learns to recognize pathogens) is relatively well studied, but we know less about evolution in response to other types of immunity. For example, although the fruit-fly (Drosophila melanogaster) is one of our best models for the ‘innate’ immune system, we know very little about its pathogens.
This project uses population-based methods to study virus evolution in Drosophila, allowing me to see how viral genomes are shaped by coevolution with the innate immune system. By using a ‘model’ system such as Drosophila to study disease, I hope to gain insights without the same complexity, cost, safety and ethical concerns that comes with using human diseases.
Specifically, it will ask questions relating to the population biology of Drosophila viruses, and how viral genomes evolve. The project will also discover new Drosophila viruses, which will provide an important resource for future work on pathogen evolution.