I love conferences. I suspect we all do, or at least, that we should, and if we don’t it’s because we don’t use them properly. For me – they’re idea generators, testers, like a grab-bag of ideas in which most most can (and will) be safely left behind, and I walk out with some really great nuggets to ponder and maybe even work on.
It’s already Tuesday morning, day 3 of EEID 2017 here in sunny Santa Barbara, CA. That’s kind of redundant: except for a few days between November and February, it’s pretty much always sunny in Santa Barbara. But I digress. Today I’m hyper-stoked for some of the more practical applications of disease ecology and evolutionary theory, including conservation biology, evolutionary medicine, and public health. So it seems a good moment to reflect backwards on the ideas I’ll be following up on in the next few months. Here’s a shot:
- Vanessa Ezenwa from U Georgia talking about unexpected coinfection and treatment effects in South African water buffalo. Treatment for helminth infection improves buffalo survival — but also increases tuberculosis infection, because infected buffalo live longer and spread the disease more. [I worked with one of Vanessa’s students, Sara Heisel, in Kenya in 2015, collecting Grevy zebra dung for parasite and genetic analyses. I literally love the shit they study in this lab.]
- Mark Wilber, PhD candidate at UC Santa Barbara in Cheri Briggs’ lab, studying transmission dynamics in Bd-infected amphibians. Selfishly his stuff caught my eye because it mirrors some of the work I did in my Masters thesis in modeling individual components of infection.
- Peter Walsh from U Cambridge going off the rails (serious extreme language warning – and it was just a lightning talk!) on the predictability of Ebola epidemics in gorillas. This is big because the dominant paradigm is the unpredictability of Ebola, ergo, Walsh’s crazy idea of an Ebola vaccine will never fly. Cool interdisciplinary visionary mind-meld of phylodynamics, virology, geography, multiple host species transmission and molecular evolution in time with disease migration. And the importance of knowing the inner workings of your analyses, AKA why molecular clocks fail.
- Armand Kuris from UC Berkeley on the evolution of sapronotic infections — and how 98% of them are fungal pathogens. Evolution of parasites from decomposers — a kind of head-scratcher. But if they’re already scavengers, competing with other fungi, bacteria and scavengers, why not move up a level and find food that are not quite dead yet, and help them die?
- Jessica Hite from U Nebraska talking about parasites “riding” host cycles, and using resources to better understand cyclic fluctuations.
- Maria Duik-Wasser, on how biodiversity alone doesn’t create a dilution effect — using an example in which deer, which are dead-end tick hosts, create a dilution effect even within a species-poor community that might otherwise be predicted to amplify Lyme disease risk.
- Dan Salkeld, from Colorado State U, talking about citizen science, fried chicken and Lyme disease: using citizen-submitted tick samples to test for Lyme disease prevalence, rather than field sampling.
- Benny Boremans’ (Jamie Lloyd-Smith’s lab at UCLA, with co-supervisorship from U Antwerp) work on estimating the time since infection using viral kinetics, and the importance of measuring antibodies
There were a couple of talks that hit on a theme of why we should be measuring antibodies: these included Peter Walsh, Mark Wilber, and Benny Boremans.
I could spend the next infinite number of lifetimes exploring just these ideas alone….