Dougs's CV


Doug Cornwall


Research interests:

The main focus of my research is to understand how genetic diversity in a host population influences patterns of pathogen adaptation and virulence evolution. In order to accomplish this I employ a retroviral – mammalian system to gain a better understanding of the in-vivo effects of pathogen adaptation. This system allows for adaptation of the virus to specific host genotypes with the corresponding pleiotropic effects in other genotypes. Using inbred Mus musculus animals that have three different Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) congenic regions I am able to test how MHC diversity influences pathogen adaptation and virulence evolution. By passaging Friend Virus Complex through animals of the same genotype (pure passage) and through animals of different genotypes (alternating passage) I am able to better understand how increasing amounts of MHC diversity impede pathogen adaptation. We see two times more fitness and virulence of the virus in pure passages than we do in alternating passages. This suggests that the MHC region is important in the ability of the host to fight off infection and that a more diverse set of MHC alleles in a population can be protective against a viral pathogen. This work could be vitally important when applied to livestock and other endangered species that have gone through major bottleneck events. Maximizing MHC diversity in these species could greatly reduce the reliance on antibiotics and control pathogens naturally.

Another focus of my research is trying to understanding the transmission dynamics of the Friend Virus Complex when it is under natural conditions. This viral complex was discovered in a lab over 50 years ago and has been maintained as a lab adapted strain of virus since that time. Understanding how the virus evolves to be ‘wild’ could shed light on how pathogens adapt to their hosts and what factors are the main contributors of pathogen adaptation. By using our semi-natural enclosures I am able to see how the virus moves through population and furthermore how each sex (which is a level of diversity) interacts with the virus differentially. Presently we have found that Friend virus complex can transmit and that though it is much more virulent if females the virus mainly (~60%) transmits from the male animals.