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World's leading experts gather at Cornell to advance understanding of infectious diseases

Cornell is hosting the eighth annual Workshop and Conference on the Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases June 2-6 to address such topics as the emergence, transmission and re-emergence of infectious microorganisms in ecosystems -- including the roles of pathogens and symbionts of plants, lower invertebrates, wildlife and humans.

The conference is expected to bring together the world's leading scientists in the area of ecology of infectious diseases.

Keynote speaker, Curtis Suttle of the University of British Columbia, will speak on "Viruses: The Greatest Genetic Diversity on Earth and Drivers of Global Processes."

This year's conference focuses on epidemics and pandemics; host as habitat; and climate and diseases. After presentations from invited speakers, graduate students and other researchers will present findings of their work, and a discussion of the findings and questions yet to be answered will conclude the sessions.

Some issues in the areas to be explored include:

  • Epidemics and pandemics: Speakers will focus on the dynamics of widespread disease outbreak in natural hosts; the special properties of pathogens, hosts and environments leading to epidemics and pandemics as well as projections of epidemic trajectories and means of control. An example to be discussed is the sudden oak death epidemic in the western United States.
  • Host as habitat: Speakers will address dynamics of host/symbiont and host/pathogen interactions, including evolutionary transitions between symbiosis and pathogenesis, and the ecology and genetics of pathogenicity and host responses.
  • Climate and disease: The focus here will shift toward climatic control and drivers of disease dynamic, including implications of climate change for changing the dynamics of pathogens and potential for forecasting trajectories of disease under climate change. The climate and disease session, with funding from the Cornell Center for a Sustainable Future (CCSF), is aimed at producing a new synthesis of knowledge gaps that loom in this fast-changing area. Invited speakers will address, for example, new approaches on climate change and infectious diseases, metamodels for global plant disease risk under climate change scenarios and climate forcing and epidemic malaria.

Workshops June 6-9 funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) following these sessions will provide intensive training for 60 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows and allow them to interact with the experts attending the meeting. Participants will work with datasets and learn old and new methodologies for rapidly answering epidemiological questions.

The conference is sponsored by CCSF, Cornell's Institute for Computational Sustainability, the Cornell Virology Program and the NSF.


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John Carberry