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«Plagues, Populations & Survival», Professor Stephen J O’Brien

The gold rush of whole genome sequences spurred by the human genome project, is heralding a new way to study the previously unanswerable from pre-history; allowing us to now mine the genomic footprints of ancient defining events of humankind and other mammals. As early paleontologists conjured up extinct forms based on fossil remains, genetic archaeologists reconstruct the origins of genomic patterns derived from ancient demographic episodes. Modern scourges that clog the world’s hospitals represent a major challenge to human health and a historic selective regulator. Past interactions between constantly adapting pathogens and finely-tuned, ever-evolving immune defenses represent a biological puzzlement that is only beginning to be deciphered. In my presentation I will illustrate how we learn hidden lessons of survival, adaptation and genome evolution referred from current views of natural history with new insights from genomes of wildlife species and ourselves. I will provide an early glimpse of the coming discipline of genomic archaeology giving illustrative examples (from the plague, SARS , HIV -AIDS), and will describe how scientists track the emergence and progression of deadly outbreaks revealing unfathomed threats to their very existence. How these non-traditional approaches can ablate extinctions and unlock medical secrets will be the lessons learned from this presentation.