This action funds an NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology for FY 2020, Integrative Research Investigating the Rules of Life Governing Interactions Between Genomes, Environment and Phenotypes. The fellowship supports research and training of the fellow that will contribute to the area of Rules of Life in innovative ways. When a pathogen infects a new host species, it can cause disease. The host species needs to adapt to this new threat through natural selection. The more disease-causing pathogens there are in the environment, the more adaptations it needs. Pathogen and disease abundance vary substantially between different ecosystems because of differences in temperature, precipitation, and other environmental conditions. However, the ecological rules and principles that govern pathogen abundance in specific environments are not well understood. These principles are critical to understanding how climate and human-wildlife contact impact human, agricultural, and wildlife diseases. To define the most important ecological principles of pathogen abundance, the fellow will integrate bat genomics and ecology to quantify adaptation to pathogens across ecosystems and species, using field sampling, genome sequencing, and computational methods development. This project can affect disease management and prediction of climate change impacts on pathogen spillover. Another major goal is to expand science participation of local underrepresented students by introducing them to science in their backyard, the Sonoran Desert.
Infectious disease results from host-pathogen interactions in an environment conducive to transmission. The resulting patterns of disease prevalence are driven by complex ecological interactions. By collapsing host-pathogen interactions into their integrated effect on the host genome as genomic disease adaptation, this project will develop the RoL describing ecological drivers of disease adaptation. This relates ecology to disease prevalence at three levels: across species in different environments (aim 1); within species across populations in different environments (aim 2); and within populations across time (aim 3). To do so, the fellow will sequence Myotis bat genomes across multiple ecosystems, develop a deep-learning pipeline to quantify selective sweeps in virus- and bacteria-interacting proteins, and correlate ecological characteristics with signatures of selection using GIS methods. The fellow will gain training in population genetics and methods development, and create methods and data resources. To broaden the impact of the work, the fellow will develop science outreach using native bat biodiversity and the unique Sonoran Desert to increase interest and science literacy in local first-generation, Hispanic, and Native American high school and university students, and recruit long-term research interns.
This award reflects NSF’s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.