Genetic selection of a protective variant following pandemic pathogen infections
Fall 2022 Graduate Student Award in Pathogenic & Commensal Organisms
Pandemics have caused extensive suffering throughout history, but human genetic diversity means that risk, severity, and death are not equally distributed among populations. Two devastating pandemics have been the Black Death (Plague) and the current COVID-19 pandemic. By combining high-throughput in vitro assays and quantitative genetic techniques, I have identified a genetic variant that is associated with lower intracellular survival of Y. pestis, the bacteria causing plague. The genetic variant is also associated with protection from COVID-19 infection and other diseases affecting the lungs. After manipulating the level of the protein affected by the genetic variant in human cell lines, I am investigating the mechanisms through which this protein elicits protective immune responses during bacterial and viral infections. Finally, I have uncovered evidence of genetic selection of the protective allele of the variant. With TriCEM support, I will explore selection of this genetic variant in worldwide populations, underscoring how ancient pathogens may shape the genetic architecture of the host and influence immune responses to unrelated, present-day pathogens.
Trisha (she/her) is a MD-PhD student in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology working in the lab of Dr. Dennis Ko. The Ko Lab studies the interplay between host genetic variation and infection starting from a cellular genome-wide association study (GWAS) platform called Hi-HOST. Trisha graduated from the University of Georgia with a B.S. in Biochemistry/Molecular Biology, B.A. in Anthropology, and M.S. in Comparative Biomedical Sciences where she investigated the pathogenesis of malaria during pregnancy.