Assistant Professor, Harvard University, School of Public Health
I am interested in combining experimental and theoretical techniques to try to understand the evolution of genetically diverse pathogen species. The malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, exhibits particularly high levels of diversity among immuno-dominant surface proteins or antigens. These proteins are important virulence factors and key determinants of naturally acquired immunity, however their population structures and evolutionary dynamics are poorly understood because they are encoded by large gene families that undergo both homologous and non-homologous recombination, as well as within-host antigenic variation. Part of my work is experimental, measuring immunological responses of children from East Africa to different parasite antigens (based in Kenya in collaboration with Dr. Peter Bull http://www.kemri-wellcome.org/). I analyze these data using a range of phylogenetic and network techniques in order to understand the structuring of these repertoires of antigenic genes both within parasites and across the parasite population. More generally, I am interested in the evolution of antigenic variation as an immune evasion strategy, and the effects of immune selection on the evolution of pathogen species.