February 17, 2021 from 10am-12pm (MST)


The current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has emphasized the vulnerability of human populations to novel viral pressures, despite the vast array of epidemiological and biomedical tools now available. Notably, modern human genomes contain evolutionary information tracing back tens of thousands of years, which may help identify the viruses that have impacted our ancestors – pointing to which viruses have future pandemic potential. Here, we apply evolutionary analyses to human genomic datasets to recover selection events involving tens of human genes that interact with coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2, that likely started more than 20,000 years ago. These adaptive events were limited to the population ancestral to East Asian populations. Multiple lines of functional evidence support an ancient viral selective pressure, and East Asia is the geographical origin of several modern coronavirus epidemics. An arms race with an ancient coronavirus, or with a different virus that happened to use similar interactions as coronaviruses with human hosts, may thus have taken place in ancestral East Asian populations. By learning more about our ancient viral foes, our study highlights the promise of evolutionary information to better predict the pandemics of the future.



Dr. David Enard studies ancient epidemics through the lens of host genomic adaptation, and develops new methods to better quantify genomic adaptation in general. 


In the past decade, population genetics research has undergone a remarkable paradigm shift as Kimura’s classic “neutral theory of molecular evolution” has been swept aside in light of new research that finds that adaptation is pervasive across animal genomes. The magnitude of this revelation has made clear that population geneticists know very little about the selective pressures in the environment that have been powerful enough to drive staggering levels of adaptation at the genomic level.


His lab examines the intersection of quantitative evolutionary genomics and environmental and ecological contexts to give a broader understanding to the recent developments in the field. We focus specifically on the interplay between diseases and adaptation. We do this by leveraging the power of genome-wide approaches to study the role of natural selection in the evolution of infectious diseases in humans and other mammals. This research program is articulated around two main axes: (I) the development of novel methods to quantify adaptation genome-wide and (II) the identification of the ecological causes of adaptation with in particular the study of ancient epidemics.