Computational Biology Seminar Series for Undergraduates

Sponsored by the LSU College of Science, the Department of Biological Sciences, the Center for Computation & Technology and the Louisiana Biomedical Research Network

Evolution and the Emergence of Novel Pathogens


Pathogen host shifts are responsible for outbreaks in wildlife, livestock, and human populations. Despite the biological importance of such host shifts, many gaps remain in our understanding of how and why they occur. Because many pathogens mutate so rapidly, their evolutionary and ecological processes are inextricably linked. Therefore, studying epidemics requires models able to connect evolution to ecology. The emerging field of phylodynamics seeks to leverage the genetic variation of pathogens to investigate their complex, epidemiological dynamics through the use of mathematical transmission models . In this talk, I will discusses how the nascent field of phylodynamics constructs mathematical models, which link evolution and epidemiology, to study pathogen transmission. To illustrate the importance of considering both evolution and ecology – along with the utility of the phylodynamic approach – when studying novel pathogens, we will consider examples from Whooping Cough, influenza, Ebola, and HIV.


Samuel V. Scarpino, PhD, is an incoming assistant professor of Mathematics and Statistics and Complex Systems at the University of Vermont, where his research focuses on understanding disease as an emergent process and improving public health surveillance. His surveillance research is done in close association with state, national, and international public health agencies and has led to substantive changes in public health practices. Beyond disease, Sam’s research has also focused on a broad range of topics, including animal movement and group dynamics; traffic routing; the effects of environmental toxins on behavior and neural biology; and models of multilevel data aggregation. In addition to basic research, he has worked for the past eight years developing and deploying decision support and data analytic tools for public health. Sam holds an undergraduate degree in biology from Indiana University Bloomington, a PhD in Integrative Biology from The University of Texas at Austin, and is currently an Omidyar postdoctoral fellow at the Santa Fe Institute.

Dr. Sam Scarpino

Santa Fe Institute and the Univ. of Vermont