Research Fellows Directory
Professor Sunetra Gupta
University of Oxford
My research programme divides into two inter-related areas, namely the evolution of pathogen and host diversity. The existence of discontinuous population structures among pathogens has typically been attributed to their history and mode of descent. I have built, over the last twenty years, a body of theoretical work on immune driven pathogen evolution based on this multi-locus framework which explains not only how discrete antigenic types can emerge within recombining pathogen populations (such as Plasmodium falciparum) but also how these may replace one another in time (such as with the influenza virus). These results are now being exploited to identify candidate antigens for use in vaccines.
A second arm of my research concerns the emergence of host diversity in response to pathogen selection pressures. Infectious diseases have been a major force in shaping both the demography and genetics of animal populations. Possibly the best-known example is the influence of malaria on the maintenance of haemoglobin disorders such as sickle cell anaemia which offer protection against death from malaria. Another important set of genes that are under direct selection pressure from pathogens is the Major Histocompatility Complex which encode cell surface proteins that present antigens to the immune system. I have demonstrated how interactions between these genes and their coevolution with pathogen populations affect their geographical distributions and populations structures.
Interests and expertise (Subject groups)