Our Research:

Our lab members work on a wide variety of topics involving immunology, ecology, infectious disease, evolution, and population genetics. One possible partitioning of the set of topics pondered lies below:


Much research in our group focuses on viruses: where ecology, evolution and immunology meet. We have recently begun a study of the rhinoviruses, the most common cause of the common cold, to understand simultaneously their extreme diversity, low virulence, and peculiar pattern of seasonal abundance. Using mathematical models based on known interactions with the immune system and genetic sequences, we hope to build detailed evolutionary models of this rapidly change set of viruses. This work is supported by a James S. McDonnell Foundation grant

As described in detail deeper within this page, several graduate students are working on different aspect of virus evolution and dynamics.

Brendan O'Fallon has developed the "crackpot hypothesis" that the high mutation rates of RNA viruses are in fact an adaptation to make the viruses less efficient in attacking their hosts.

Sean Laverty is combining models with extensive field work to study how Sin Nombre virus, the primary cause of the deadly hantavirus pulmonary syndrome in humans, spreads and persists in populations of its natural host, deer mice.

Amber Smith has combined modeling with experiments to study the dynamics of influenza infections in mice, and their interaction with secondary bacterial infections.

Giao Huynh is studying the mechanisms of persistence in Epstein-Barr Virus, and its links with cancer.

Courtney Davis is looking at the maintenance of T cell memory, and how that interacts with the depletion of T cells caused by certain viral infections, and with the cross-reactivity between various viruses.

Animal Behavior

Several lab members work with organisms that can be seen with the naked eye, some from a distance of miles. Our focus is to understand both the proximate and ultimate causes of behavior, and link behaviors with their ecological consequences.

Luciano Valenzuela studies the Southern Right Whale in Argentina, examining how mothers migrate between feeding and breeding areas.

Colby Tanner likes to make ants fight, and looks at mechanisms of regulation of aggression in two closely-related competing species of aphid-tending ants.

Fred Adler collaborates with Deborah Gordon (Stanford University Department of Biological Sciences) to study foraging optimization in the red seed harvester ant of the desert southwest (adler&gordon2003).


Fred Adler collaborates with Don Feener (University of Utah Department of Biology) to make sense of the mechanisms by which ant species that basically eat the same stuff coexist (adler_lebrun_feener2006). With Helene Muller-Landau, Fred Adler is extending models of the Janzen-Connell effect to understand the patterns of biodiversity in highly speciose ecosystems (adler&mullerlandau2005). This work combines studying the role of tradeoffs in maintaining diversity (adler&mosquera2000, adler2006).

The rhinovirus project began as an investigation of the mechanisms by which over 100 different serotypes of these viruses coexist in the same environment (the human nose, koppelman_adler2005). Understanding will require combining information about transmission and epidemiology (rhinovirus causing most colds in the fall and spring rather than the winter), immunology (rhinoviruses are rather good at inducing only a minimal level of long-term immunity), and mutation (like other RNA viruses, rhinoviruses have extremely high mutation rates and huge population sizes, and thus explore more of evolutionary space than any other entities on the planet). This so-called "quasispecies" evolution obeys rather different rules from the ordinary plodding evolution we understand from ourselves and fruit flies (OFallon:2007:QES)

Infectious disease

In addition to Amber Smith's work on the deadly synergism between Influenza and Streptococcus pneumonia, and the work with Sean Laverty and Denise Dearing on the dynames of hantavirus (adler&etal2008), Fred Adler has a long-term collaboration with Dr. Ted Liou (University of Utah, Department of Internal Medicine) to study survivorship in patients with cystic fibrosis (CF) (liou&etal2007). Building on statistical work that focuses on identifying the best patients for lung transplanation, we have begun studying the mechanisms by which the bacteria that infect the CF lung interact with each other and with the immune system.