How and why do pathogens emerge? To improve our ability to protect human health and wildlife populations, we must decipher the factors underlying pathogen emergence. The central tenet of my work is understanding how variation in hosts and pathogens at the individual, population, and species levels impact pathogen distribution, spread, and evolution.

I take an integrative approach that draws on methods and theory from genomics, microbiology, immunology, physiology, ecology and behavior to investigate fundamental questions regarding host-pathogen interactions and to improve our understanding of the composition and ecology of entire pathogen communities.


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 Joe DeRisi's 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.


Returning to Joe DeRisi's lab at UCSF as an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow, I continued 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 talk I gave on this topic at UC Berkeley).