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INTERDISCIPLINARY DISEASE ECOLOGY ACROSS SCALES: FROM BYTE TO BENCHTOP TO BIOSPHERE

Abstract

Infectious diseases are an ongoing threat to human health, animal health, and social stability. This National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) project prepares doctoral students at the University of Georgia with data-enabled science and engineering training to solve complex, interdisciplinary problems related to diseases and the environment. Effectively predicting where new infectious agents will go next, how fast they will spread, and how severely humans or other species may be impacted requires a basic knowledge of how hosts and pathogens interact at different scales of biological organization (e.g., cell, organism, population), as well as the ability to identify how processes taking place at one scale respond to or affect processes occurring at adjacent scales. This traineeship anticipates preparing thirty (30) doctoral students, including twenty (20) funded trainees, with mastery of both empirical and computational dimensions of contemporary infectious disease problems. Research activities associated with the program focus on three topical areas critical to unraveling the complexity of host-pathogen interactions in nature: co-infection and pathogen interactions; environmental change and disease dynamics; and tipping points and early warning signals. Faculty from thirteen academic units with empirical expertise spanning single cells to whole ecosystems, and quantitative expertise in statistical modeling, mathematical modeling, stochastic processes, adaptive dynamics, machine learning, and geographic mapping will co-mentor student research. This traineeship will use interdisciplinary case study-based teaching, instruction in advanced techniques for computer modeling, and internships at non-academic and international organizations to provide students with the conceptual background, computational skills, and global perspective needed to tackle the most pressing infectious disease problems of our time. In addition, a range of professional development activities including a capstone experience, data clinics, internships, study abroad, and communication training will provide students with the skills to transfer basic knowledge to real world problems in both academic and non-academic settings. The NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) Program is designed to encourage the development and implementation of bold, new, potentially transformative, and scalable models for STEM graduate education training. The Traineeship Track is dedicated to effective training of STEM graduate students in high priority interdisciplinary research areas, through the comprehensive traineeship model that is innovative, evidence-based, and aligned with changing workforce and research needs.

People

Funding Source

Project Period

2015-2020