I am currently an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow in Joe DeRisi's lab at the University of California, San Francisco. I take an inter-disciplinary approach to the study of disease ecology of wildlife, with particular emphasis on the importance of host behavior and physiology and pathogen community diversity as drivers of host-pathogen interactions. My work in the DeRisi lab focuses on the use of metagenomics as a powerful tool for improving our understanding of the composition and ecology of entire pathogen communities of wildlife.
I received my BA in Biology from Amherst College, where I was drawn to the fields of animal behavior and disease ecology (the first through the study of the evolution of human behavior, and the second while conducting experiments on the evolution of virulence in cholera with Paul Ewald). After graduating, I joined the DeRisi lab at UCSF, where I worked on the first generation Virochip, a microarray developed for the discovery of viral causes of diseases of unknown etiology (this technology was field tested during the SARS outbreak, when it identified the causative agent of the disease as a novel coronavirus).
After a stint in the DeRisi lab, and a year or so spent traveling the world (particularly South America and South East Asia), I attended the University of California, Davis. There I combined my passion for both behavior and disease ecology while pursuing my PhD as an NSF graduate research fellow in Tom Hahn's lab, with additional mentorship from Kirk Klasing and John Wingfield. In the process, I developed an interest in physiology, which further informed my study of behavior and disease ecology. In my dissertation, I ultimately drew on these disparate but inter-related fields to understand the relationship between behavior, immunology, and disease ecology in Galapagos finches and house finches, from both empirical and theoretical perspectives (for which I was awarded the Allen G. Marr Distinguished Dissertation Prize). After graduating, I joined Jack Dumbacher's lab at the California Academy of Sciences as a postdoctoral fellow; there I incorporated next generation sequencing techniques into my study of avian disease ecology in order to examine the diversity of viral communities of wild avian species, an area that we know little about despite increasing evidence that birds are important sources of zoonotic disease outbreaks that can have important impacts on people.
Now, I am back in the DeRisi lab and am continuing the work I began at the California Academy of Sciences, applying metagenomics techniques to viral discovery in avian species from around the world. One aspect of this research centers on viral discovery in healthy avian populations; this work focuses on describing the full viral communities of avian species, and understanding the importance of these communities, or viromes, for host-pathogen dynamics. A second aspect of this research focuses on discovering the pathogens underlying wildlife diseases of unknown etiology; I am currently working to ascertain the underlying cause of avian keratin disorder, a disease that causes massive beak overgrowth in an apparently wide range of wild birds (watch a recent talk I gave on this topic at UC Berkeley).