Certain ecological and evolutionary processes are especially well exemplified by organisms that induce infectious disease and by their corresponding host responses. The advent of molecular evolutionary genetics has rendered such viral, bacterial, and parasitic organisms ideal as study subjects because microbial abundance, and their relatively rapid evolutionary potential, allows us to study (and sometimes even predict) evolutionary trajectories. That should come as welcome news, given the devastation wrought by the likes of AIDS, malaria, and avian flu.

Population genetics has been termed “the auto mechanics of evolutionary biology” because it studies how standing intra-specific variation becomes converted into distinct biological lineages. We will explore its special contribution to elucidating the biology of infection. We will also adopt the complementary perspectives of molecular evolution, phylogenetics, comparative genomics, and epidemiology. Although mastery of any of these disciplines could not be achieved through such an introductory seminar, students will gain insight into the range of questions that can be posed and tested using available tools and attainable data.

The objectives of this course are threefold:
1) to gain an appreciation for the diverse methods available to study evolutionary and ecological processes using increasingly abundant biological data.
2) To understand how these methods may be applied to real problems in infectious disease.
3) To become more critical readers of scientific literature and more precise scientific writers.

Assignments include:

• Each week, we will explore the application of an experimental approach to one or more problems in infectious disease biology. Readings that provide a general background on the research methodology, and on the disease in question, will be coupled with original scientific papers that apply the method to the problem(s).

• Continuous, critical engagement in our weekly conversations will constitute the principal criterion for student evaluation.

• This will be apportioned into:
1) A series of “reaction papers” in which each student will identify and explore questions arising from the week’s readings (together accounting for 65% of the final grade). These short writings, submitted two days prior to class, will serve as an important basis for classroom discussion.
2) Active participation in the ensuring class discussions (20%)
3) A final project and presentation (15%)

Readings include:

Readings will be drawn from original scientific papers, as well as selections from relevant texts:

Anderson and May, Infectious Diseases of Humans