Lecture: 'The Future of Infectious Disease in a Pharmaceutical Age'

A free public lecture by Andrew Read, professor of biology and entomology, and an Eberly College of Science senior scholar at Penn State, titled "The Future of Infectious Disease in a Pharmaceutical Age" will be given on Jan. 29, on the Penn State University Park campus. The event is the second of six lectures in the 2011 Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science, a free minicourse for the general public with the theme "Epidemic: Infectious Disease on a Changing Planet." No registration is required. The lectures take place on consecutive Saturday mornings from 11 a.m. to about 12:30 p.m. in 100 Thomas Building.

During his lecture, Read will discuss the latest research about how germs are fighting back against the powerful drugs and vaccines that save us from the infections that would have killed our great grandparents. His lecture will describe the kinds of germs that modern pharmaceuticals are creating and how these newly evolved germs may affect our health.

Often controversial in scientific circles, Read perhaps is best known for his research on how natural selection shapes the virulence of malaria. These days he is interested in how the 'unnatural' selection imposed by medicine shapes the evolution of disease-causing organisms. This evolution causes drugs to fail and can create so-called super-bugs. He argues that a greater understanding of the consequences of drugs, insecticides, and vaccines could make it possible to better manage the germs -- or at the very least, could make it possible to avoid the evolutionary mismanagement that characterized 20th-century medicine.

His studies of why malaria is so deadly have revealed many answers -- including the discovery that lethal strains of malaria out-compete benign strains. What has him baffled now is the opposite question: why does malaria not kill more people? Finding the answer is important to understanding the longer-term consequences of public-health policies for malaria. "We do not inadvertently want to destroy whatever it is that stops more lethal strain spreading," he said. Read now is working to generate evolution-proof strategies against malaria.

Read is director of Penn State's Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics. He has been honored for his research achievements with an Institute for Advanced Studies in Berlin fellowship in 2006, a Royal Society of Edinburgh fellowship in 2003, and a scientific medal from the Zoological Society of London in 1999. He has served on the scientific advisory boards for the Finnish Centre of Excellence in Evolutionary Research and the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Cambridge since 2006, as well as on other international scientific committees. In 2005, he represented the Wellcome Trust, often described as the biggest biomedical charity in the world, at the Heads of International Research Organizations brainstorming meeting on the ecology of infectious diseases. Read has co-authored more than 150 scientific papers in international, peer-reviewed journals, including papers published in Science, Nature, PLoS Biology, Evolution, and the Proceedings of the (U.S.) National Academy of Science.

Before joining Penn State in 2007, Read was at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, where he was the 13th Professor of Natural History, an endowed Chair established in 1767. He was an adjunct professor in evolutionary ecology at the University of Tromsø, Norway, from 1992 to 1997 and a lecturer in zoology at St. Catherine's College at Oxford University in the United Kingdom from 1989 to 1990. He earned a Ph.D. degree in evolutionary biology at the University of Oxford in 1989 and a bachelor's degree with honors in zoology at the University of Otago, New Zealand, in 1984.

The Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science is a program of the Penn State Eberly College of Science that is designed for the enjoyment and education of residents of the Central Pennsylvania area and beyond. The 2011 series features Penn State faculty members in the Eberly College of Science and the College of Agricultural Sciences who participate in collaborative research in Penn State's Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences. For more information or access assistance, contact the Eberly College of Science Office of Media Relations and Public Information by telephone at 814-863-0901 or by e-mail at clm29@psu.edu. More information about the Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science, including archived recordings of previous lectures and a list of other lectures in the 2011 series, is on the Web at http://www.science.psu.edu/alert/frontiers.

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Last Updated February 27, 2014