logo for the molecular ecology of zoonotic and animal pathogens laboratory which has a tangled phylogeny representing the coevolution of viruses and their hosts adjacent to the lab name

Research in the Molecular Ecology of Zoonotic and Animal Pathogens (MEZAP) lab centers on the question “what factors shape virus populations?” We draw from different fields, including virology, genetics, evolution, and ecology, to study the dynamics of viruses in animals with an emphasis on understanding cross-species transmission. We are currently developing methods to leverage genomic and transcriptomic data from field-collected samples and in vitro experimental work to predict host-virus compatibility with computational modeling approaches. By investigating the genomic basis of innate immune pathways and viral traits, we uncover the molecular mechanisms underlying host-virus interactions. This approach allows us to investigate the molecular landscape involved in compatibility, providing valuable insights into the factors that determine the outcomes of host-virus encounters. Our current systems include orthopoxviruses, filoviruses and henipaviruses in central African bats, and virus population dynamics at the human-livestock-wildlife interface in Kenya and the northwestern United States. 

Cross-species transmission events require both exposure to a pathogen and molecular compatibility. To effectively study the phenomenon of cross-species transmission, we need to take an interdisciplinary approach. In the MEZAP lab, we use theory from ecology, evolution, and epidemiology to provide the framework through which we can understand the mechanisms that facilitate or limit cross-species transmission.

image showing the MEZAP lab workflow which flows from field sampling from wildlife to testing ecological and evolutionary hypotheses about processes that shape pathogen populations in hosts to laboratory modeling to test hypotheses about molecular interactions.

The study of nonmodel organisms and diverse pathogens poses a significant challenge due to the lack of molecular tools including assays for low-cost and high throughput pathogen surveillance. To study our complex systems, we develop novel methods for full viral genome recovery and broad virus surveillance from clinical and ecological samples. Our primary goal is to create assays that can be efficiently implemented in low-resource settings, thereby holding practical implications for rapid outbreak response. These advancements empower us to study the dynamics and prevalence of diverse pathogens in environments with limited resources.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Sciences
Our goal is for the research environment in the MEZAP lab to be interdisciplinary and inclusive. We are dedicated to improving diversity and inclusion in the sciences and welcome lab members and collaborators with diverse backgrounds, training, and interests. We are committed to building a scientific community where creativity and the unique contributions of individuals are valued by promoting a culture of inclusion across gender, race, religion, age, nationality, or identity. As part of the School for Global Health, we endeavor to build meaningful collaborations and partnerships with our international colleagues.