By Anna Aligood
In June 2019, more than 400 ecologists gathered at Princeton University for the 17th annual Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases (EEID) meeting. This year’s event marked Princeton’s first year hosting.
EEID 2019 included talks that were categorized into four main themes, which meeting hosts chose based on interest and trends:
- Behavioral drivers of disease dynamics involves the behavior of people and animals on an individual or population level and how that behavior affects transmission of disease from one host to another.
- Genetics of disease dynamics across scales refers to the genetics of the host or parasite, which can affect how sick that parasite makes its host and how rapidly it transmits across the population.
- Environmental drivers of disease include factors such as climate that alter transmission of infections. For example, climate influences the transmission of parasites or pathogens from mosquitoes, as these insect vectors survive better in warmer, wetter climates.
- Consequences of within-host competition for disease control across scales involves interactions between parasites that infect the same host at the same time. These co-infecting parasites can compete with each other, which can influence how sick the host gets as well as how well drugs work.
The conference rotates host institutions each year. Past hosts include institutions such as Penn State University, Colorado State University and Cornell University, among others.
Princeton was a natural fit for EEID. Like the conference, the university strongly supports interdisciplinary education and research by bringing scholars together across multiple fields of study. For example, the university’s Center for Health and Wellbeing (CHW) fosters research and teaching on multiple aspects of health and health policy from a range of disciplinary perspectives, including the ecology and evolution of infectious diseases.
EEID 2019 also included poster presentations, which featured more than 200 posters total. CHW funded the poster sessions.
Beyond the sessions
The meeting’s scope and small size kept it intimate, which facilitated personal interaction between participants. Virtually every aspect of the meeting provided attendees with the opportunity to ask questions, give and receive on-the-spot feedback and network with other attendees — many of whom are experts in the field. Those opportunities included question-and-answer sessions after each talk, poster sessions and refreshment breaks, as well as a banquet, dance and hike.
EEID also gave attendees the unique opportunity to learn their viral exposure history by collecting anonymous blood samples during breaks and poster sessions. These samples will undergo comprehensive serological profiling, to look for antibodies using a method called VirScan. The body develops antibodies against viruses and other infectious agents if it has been infected with or vaccinated against them.
The main advantage of the VirScan method is that it can show through a single test all of the viruses — from measles to flu and beyond — against which an individual has antibodies. Before this test, the only way to study which viruses people have antibodies against was to look for each one separately.
Background on EEID
Before the first EEID meeting took place in 2003, individuals could only attend broader, less focused meetings. Those meetings centered around immunology, microbiology, parasitology or virology, ecology,[AA1] or evolutionary biology. And they offered only one session, at best, related to ecology and evolution of infectious diseases.
For the past 17 years, EEID has offered a prime venue for ecology and evolution of infectious diseases experts and students to exchange ideas relating to the topic. EEID provides the relevance, depth and breadth of interdisciplinary topics that other conferences simply do not provide.
The field of ecology and evolution of infectious diseases is relatively young, getting its start in the 1970s in the United Kingdom. While young, the field has been rapidly growing, with more and more universities offering disease ecology programs and hiring faculty.
Integrating disease ecology and evolution is essential to understanding the biology of infectious diseases, such as influenza and malaria. Experts who take an ecological approach are able to understand transmission dynamics of acute viral infections such as influenza, for example, and the dynamics of mosquito populations that drive malaria incidence. Using mathematical tools, they predict future patterns of infection, which informs prevention and treatment strategies.
Learn more about EEID 2019
To learn more, please see the full conference program and other details: 17th Annual Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases (EEID) meeting June 10-13, 2019 at Princeton University.