Featured Site: Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics

Melissa Beattie-Moss
February 26, 2007

Though its importance is incontrovertible, you won't find the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics (CIDD) on any Penn State map. That's because the center is a "virtual" one, bringing together laboratory scientists, field scientists and theoreticians from disparate disciplines to solve some of the most pressing problems in infectious disease research.

The CIDD team, which has expertise in fields as diverse as immunology, physics, architecture and ecology (among many other disciplines), "takes advantage of the deep strengths we have at this university," comments Bruce McPheron, associate dean of research and graduate education in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

This mix of expertise is deliberate. "To tackle key questions—such as what makes a virus jump from one species to another to cause a pandemic—we need a highly interdisciplinary approach," stresses Peter Hudson, the center's former co-director and current director of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences.

Despite being spread out across the University, CIDD-affiliated faculty members and students get together regularly. "Collaboration makes CIDD a true team," notes Bill Easterling, director of the Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment (PSIE). "Faculty members often work together on research proposals and, together, report their research results in prestigious scientific journals.

For example, CIDD member Edward Holmes and colleagues—including PSU undergrad Katherine Snapinn—recently authored an article titled, "Declining Growth Rate of West Nile Virus in North America," to be published in the March 2007 issue of the Journal of Virology. By studying the genetic diversities in both the NY99 and WN02 genotypes of the virus, the research team was able to create a demographic history of West Nile's spread that suggests it has reached its peak prevalence in North America and is now decreasing.

Other CIDD researchers are looking beyond the evolution of parasites and pathogens to investigate the co-evolutionary process by which hosts and disease agents can exert powerful selective pressures on each other.

Graduate student Angela Luis's research is an example of this direction: She is examining a hypothesis that hibernation patterns have evolved to reduce parasite burdens. Along with mentor Peter Hudson, Luis co-authored the article "Hibernation patterns in mammals: a role for bacterial growth?" which was published in the June 2006 issue of the journal Functional Ecology.

In keeping with CIDD's emphasis on communication and interdisciplinary collaboration, the center's Web site is a well-organized resource for the academic community and beyond. Affiliated research projects are described clearly and succinctly; synopses of selected research papers are available online; and the calendar section lists upcoming events such as a lively seminar series, and lunchtime lectures for post-docs and faculty.

"Our main research themes integrate a wide range of scientific disciplines," states the CIDD Web site, "and span the whole range of biological complexity—from genes and proteins to populations and pandemics."

Online visitors to this virtual center will certainly come away from a visit with a better understanding of this rich field of study.

—Melissa Beattie-Moss

Bryan Grenfell, Ph.D., is alumni professor of biology in the Eberly College of Science and acting director of the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics; grenfell@psu.edu.

Last Updated August 10, 2015