I am currently a 5th year PhD candidate co-advised by Liz Hadly and Karla Kirkegaard in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.
Many recently emerged infectious diseases, including SARS, Ebola, and potentially COVID19 are hypothesized to originate in bats. While bats can host many pathogens that make humans and livestock sick, they don’t seem to experience illness and disease when infected with the same viruses in the wild. My current research focuses on interrogating an immune response pathway that is positively selected for in bats. Positive selection of a particular gene in this pathway suggests the presence of some pressure(s) driving evolution. We hypothesize that variation in this gene facilitates the ability of different bat species to tolerate infection with viral pathogens. To test this hypothesis, I am currently using cell lines (cells harvested from bats and grown in lab) to investigate the consequences of variation in this gene. I have employed CRISPR-Cas9 genetic editing to delete our gene of interest in these cells and explore the outcomes of infection in its absence. My work will shed light on a potential evolutionary mechanism equipping bats with tolerance to microbial pathogens.
Considering pathogens as a source of evolutionary pressure in bats is directly in line with our lab’s central focus on the generation and maintenance of biodiversity. While the driving forces and phenotypic changes here are microscopic, the impacts can be observed at the individual, community, and inter-species level.
I received my B.S. in Microbiology from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.