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Loren Cassin-Sackett

PhD, 2012, University of Colorado, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
BA, 2003, Whitman College, Psychology

Research Description:
Our research focuses on the processes driving evolutionary diversity across spatial and temporal scales.  In particular, much of our current work focuses on novel (e.g., introduced) pathogens that exert strong selection on naive hosts. This strong selection can either lead to reductions in host diversity or elicit adaptation.  For instance, the pathogen causing avian malaria (Plasmodium relictum) was recently introduced to Hawaii and subsequently caused the rapid decline of native honeycreeper species, including several extinctions. However, some species have recently begun to evolve tolerance to the pathogen.  Similarly, the bacterium causing bubonic plague (Yersinia pestis) was accidentally introduced to western North America, evoking dramatic declines in prairie dog populations.  Recently, some individuals have demonstrated resistance to the pathogen, but resistance has not become widespread across the species' ranges.  We are investigating the genomic underpinnings of this rapid adaptation to pathogens, and exploring the constraints on adaptation. The observation that only a few honeycreeper species have evolved malaria tolerance, and a small number of prairie dogs exhibit plague resistance, suggests that genetic, ecological, and/or spatiotemporal constraints exist on adaptation to pathogens. We combine field and lab approaches with genomic and bioinformatic tools to understand evolution in complex disease systems.
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