I study how sex, social interactions, and ecology shape viral evolution. Viruses frequently infect the same cell, leading to conflicts of interest over cell resources. Viruses can evolve to exploit other co-infecting viruses and increase their reproduction at the expense other viruses. I work with viruses isolated from the environment, using a variety of lab techniques to understand the evolution of sexual strategies and their relationship with ecology.
I currently study genetic exchange among RNA viruses (Cystoviruses) that infect Pseudomonas bacteria. The genome of these phages is divided into three segments. Sex occurs when phages swap their segments while reproducing within a cell (reassortment). Reassortment occurs in other viruses, such as influenza, and is an important factor in determining the capacity to infect new hosts, evade immune responses or vaccines, and adapt to new environments. Some of my research questions using the Pseudomonas-Cystovirus system are: How frequent is genetic exchange in nature? What ecological conditions encourage genetic exchange? What are the long-term evolutionary consequences of different sexual strategies?