Genome dynamics and evolutionary history of the plague, Yersinia pestis

Prof Francois Balloux, Genetics, Evolution & Environment, UCL

Tuesday 15th November
Pearson Lecture Theatre
Time: 17:00

Plague is caused by Yersinia pestis, a gram-negative bacterium that killed scores of millions over the last millennia and caused three major historical pandemics. While such devastating epidemics are a phenomenon of the past, thousands of cases are still diagnosed every year and plague has recently been classified as a re-emerging disease. I will present new results based on a large number of high-quality complete genomes, which allowed us to refine our understanding of the history of plague and obtain unprecedented insight into the accumulation of genetic changes in the various plague lineages. Overall, our results indicate that the evolution of Y. pestis was driven more by chance events than by adaptation to its hosts. However, we also observed that the rate at which plague lineages accumulated genomic changes has been far from constant. I will show that the most likely reason for this highly unexpected pattern is the preferential accumulation of genomic changes during past epidemics.

Francois Balloux obtained his PhD from the University of Lausanne (Switzerland) in 2,000. After a short postdoctoral stay in Edinburgh, he was offered a lectureship in Cambridge. Six years later, he moved to Imperial College in 2006 to join the recently created MRC Centre for Infectious Disease Outbreaks. He moved again in late 2011 to University College London for a chair in Systems and Computational Biology. He has worked on a variety of questions related to the use and interpretation of genetic and genomic sequence data. His research has focussed on two main topics: the first being how to use of sequence data to characterise and control outbreaks and epidemics of infectious diseases and the second focused on the reconstruction of ancient human migrations from genetic and genomic data.

Francois' webpage:


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