Viruses and bacteria are responsible for the majority of infectious diseases in humans. While the human immune system is tasked with finding and fighting these agents, the disease causing pathogens have acquired and/or developed an assortment of mechanisms to avoid detection and improve their chances of survival.
We are interested in learning more about how human pathogens cause infectious diseases. We do this through two separate but complementary approaches.
- We apply “big data” techniques on the high-performance computing environment at BYU to mine existing sequence information from public databases. Specifically, we look at how a human cell responds to disease by calculating how the messenger RNA (mRNA) changes when comparing disease and non-disease samples. We can then use this information to determine the functions and signals that are changed during and after infection or disease.
- We perform comparative genomics analyses of viruses and bacteria to better understand how, why, and where they accumulate mutations in their genomes. We also apply statistical methods to determine how these mutations affect the phenotype of the pathogen.
It is our goal to improve our understanding of how these pathogens negatively impact human homeostasis. By doing so, we anticipate an augmented ability to counter such attacks by “priming” the immune system prior to infection or modulating the host response during infection to decrease the mortality rate and improve human health.