The unappreciated killers? Genome evolution of hemorrhagic fever viruses – University of Copenhagen

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12 December 2011

The unappreciated killers? Genome evolution of hemorrhagic fever viruses

The unappreciated killers? Genome evolution of hemorrhagic fever viruses

Talk by

Kristian G. Andersen, PhD Harvard University,

Monday December 19th 11am at Centre for GeoGenetics, Natural History Museum of Denmark, Geological Museum Auditorium, Oester Voldgade 5-7


Viral hemorrhagic fevers, such as Ebola and Lassa fever, are thought to be recent human diseases. Most of these viruses have an animal reservoir, whereas humans are believed to be infected only sporadically. New seroprevalence studies data, however, challenge these long-held views and suggest that human contact with certain viral hemorrhagic fevers may occur more frequently than previously thought.

Lassa fever virus is wide-spread in West Africa causing thousands of reported deaths each year, with many more unaccounted for. Using a suit of NextGeneration sequencing technologies combined with high-throughput genotyping and computational tools, we have investigated the host-pathogen evolution of Lassa virus and it's human host. We find that the virus evolves rapidly during infection, which is most likely caused by an immune pressure from the human host. In contrast, viral evolution appears to be constricted in it's natural reservoir - the rodent M. natalensis, suggesting that the virus and its natural host have co-evolved over a long period of time. Interestingly, looking at the West African population we also find evidence for positive selection of genes required for viral infection. These studies shed light on the complex host-reservoir-pathogen relationship between humans, rodents and one of the most deadly viral diseases known to man.


Kristian G. Andersen is a researcher at FAS Center for Systems Biology and Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University and the Broad Institute. He received his BSc from Aarhus University and his PhD from the University of Cambridge and MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in 2009. Here, he worked on mechanisms of immunological tolerance and the evolution of the adaptive immune system. For this work, he was awarded the Max Perutz prize for "outstanding graduate research" in 2008.

Since moving to Harvard he has been investigating the complex relationship between host and pathogen. Using a combination of experimental and computational techniques he is investigating how the human immune system impacts the evolution of viral pathogens such as Lassa and Ebola. Given the strong selection pressures caused by these microorganisms, he is also investigating signals of natural selection in the human genome in response to infectious agents.