Earth and Environmental Sciences

Viral Evolution: The Long and the Short of It
Robert Gifford, The Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center

Using examples from my own research, I will illustrate how molecular genetic approaches are enabling us to investigate the history of virus evolution across timescales ranging from days to millions of years, and how this is changing our understanding of viruses and viral disease. I will describe how ‘fossilized’ viral genes in animal genomes allow the ancient evolutionary history of viruses to be inferred, focusing in particular on a recent discovery from my laboratory that links a contemporary disease of birds to an 8 million year old infection of mammals, via experimental studies of malaria conducted in the mid-20th century. This extraordinary example serves not only to illustrate the use of ‘paleovirological’ approaches to study ancient viruses, but also raises important and challenging questions about the role of technological advances and medical interventions in the emergence of new viral diseases. The goal of my talk will be to generate discussion with respect to how understanding the complex and intimate relationships between viruses and their host species may influence future approaches to preventing and controlling viral disease.

Background Review Article:

Specter, Michael. "Darwin's Surprise." The New Yorker (2007): 64-73.

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Earth and Environmental Sciences

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