Center for Research on Processes in Evolution (FY 2009b)
Microbes evolve on a time scale that is rapid compared to the human life span. Major challenges to human health arise when evolution of drug resistance, vaccine escape, or new diseases surpass our ability to keep up through medical technology. A better understanding of the forces that cause and limit these events is required to anticipate or avoid problems caused by microbial evolution. Fundamenal research done in the Center for Research on Processes in Evolution at the University of Idaho investigates the importance and consequences of critical mutagenic processes, identifies patterns of change that emerge during the course of evolution, develops and tests models to understand these patterns, and devises means to analyze large genetic data sets. Hallmarks of the Center's multidisciplinary research program are the coupling of empirical and theoretical research, a strong orientation toward rigorous testing of hypotheses, and the blending of expertise from biology, biochemistry, mathematics, statistics, and computer science to create productive interdisciplinary teams of investigators. The Center is organized and administered to address the following specific aims: (1) Conduct leading-edge multidisciplinary research in computational and evolutionary biology; (2) Broaden the base of biomedical research in evolutionary biology at the University of Idaho. (3) Mentor COBRE investigators to develop nationally competitive, independently-funded research programs; and (4) Transition to a self-sustaining Center that is independent of funding from the NIH-IDeA Program. Relevance to public health: The rapid evolution of microorganisms contributes to some of the most alarming projected crises for human health, including the emergence of new pandemics and widespread drug resistance. Traditional approaches to microbial evolution focus on the molecular details specific to particular pathogens or on theoretical models that ignore the molecular details. The Center for Research on Processes in Evolution at the University of Idaho takes a broad interdisciplinary approach that incorporates molecular details, population structure and dynamics, and an appreciation for the ecology of the human microbiome. This integrated view of microbial evolution is the next necessary step to move the field toward a more useful predictive science.