UCL Division of Biosciences


Dr. Alethea Wang

Alethea Wang

The focus of my research so far has been in understanding the evolutionary causes and consequences of context-dependent variation in mutational properties. During my PhD at the University of Toronto, I quantified changes in the rate and fitness effects of mutations using Drosophila melanogaster as my model biological study system. While mutation rates are often assumed to be constant at the interspecific level, I showed both quantitatively and mechanistically that mutation rates are condition- (i.e., fitness) dependent. I also found that environmental differences are a major factor causing changes to the overall distribution of mutational fitness effects.

For my research in the Balloux lab (in collaboration with the Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London), I will be developing a novel experimental evolution system using ranavirus, an emerging infectious disease threatening wildlife species globally. Although new infectious viral diseases have frequently been linked to virus host switching, few studies have examined the genetic determinants which enable a pathogen to jump into and adapt to a new host species. The genus Ranavirus (Family Iridoviridae) has an unusually broad host range encompassing amphibian, reptile, and fish species (Amphibia, Reptilia and Teleostei), making it an ideal study system to characterize viral evolution across different combinations of viral-genotype and host-environment contexts. By using a combination of empirical and genomic sequencing approaches, I aim to generate important insights that will help elucidate host-pathogen adaptive dynamics and facilitate the control of future ranavirus epidemics. 

My long-term interest is to address outstanding fundamental evolutionary genetics questions with direct application to real-world biological problems (e.g., biodiversity conservation, infectious diseases).