Research Interests

Postdoctoral research: The impact of influenza antigenic evolution on seasonal epidemics

Each year, seasonal influenza imposes a significant public health burden, causing up to 500,000 deaths worldwide and billions of dollars in economic losses in the United States alone. Although individuals develop long-lasting immunity to particular influenza strains after infection, influenza viruses accumulate genetic changes that alter antigenic phenotype, leaving previously exposed individuals susceptible to reinfection. Antigenic drift enables individuals to be infected multiple times throughout their lifetimes and necessitates the reformulation of the influenza vaccine every year. Though there have been important advances concerning our understanding of the rates and spatial dynamics of influenza evolution on a global scale, the contribution of antigenic drift to inter-annual fluctuations in influenza epidemiology is not well understood. In collaboration with Cécile Viboud (Fogarty International Center) and Trevor Bedford and John Huddleston (Fred Hutch), my postdoctoral research aims to link influenza A/H3N2 evolutionary dynamics to epidemiological impact, at both a population level and a global level.

Other ongoing projects:

PhD Research: Ecological, Evolutionary, and Behavioral Determinants of Gut Microbiome Composition in Wild Lemurs

Many diurnal primates live in social groups with individuals typically interacting frequently and intimately within their own group and rarely with individuals outside of their group. The resulting dynamic and hierarchical contact patterns constrain microbial transmission and fundamentally determine the fate of disease outbreaks. Though social networks demonstrably influence parasite transmission and infectious disease outbreaks in wildlife populations, we know little about their impact on the mammalian gut microbiome or the downstream consequences for host physiology and health. To address this knowledge gap, my doctoral research integrated field behavioral observation data, metagenomic sequencing, and computational and statistical methods to examine how contact networks and proximity to other host species influence bacteria transmission and gut microbiome composition in wild primates. In particular, this work focused on a population of wild Verreaux’s sifaka inhabiting Kirindy Mitea UNESCO Biosphere in western Madagascar and was in close collaboration with Rebecca Lewis (Department of Anthropology, University of Texas at Austin), the director of a long-term sifaka research study in Kirindy Mitea (the Sifaka Research Project). By combining rich behavioral and bacteriological data with methods from network theory, my dissertation research aimed to improve our understanding of how social interactions impact microbiome health and to inform efforts to mitigate the spread of bacteria that contribute to microbiome dysbioses or disease outbreaks in wildlife populations.

captured sifaka grooming
Left: Amanda Perofsky holding a sedated sifaka during the Sifaka Research Project’s annual capture in 2016. Right: Sifaka allogrooming at Ankoatsifaka Research Station in Kirindy Mitea National Park.

Projects

Hierarchical social networks shape gut microbial composition in wild sifaka (Manuscript)

  • In a multi-dimensional analysis, I related hierarchical characteristics—including group membership, pairwise associations, and individual-level connectivity, demography, and genotype— to gut microbial community structure and diversity within and across seven sifaka social groups in Kirindy Mitea.

Terrestriality and bacterial transfer: A comparative study of gut microbiomes in sympatric Malagasy mammals (Manuscript)

  • I examined the relative influences of diet, environment, and host evolutionary history on gut microbiome diversity and functionality among six sympatric mammal species - three primate and three non-primate - inhabiting Kirindy Mitea.

Ongoing research: Social groups constrain the temporal dynamics of wild sifaka gut microbiomes (Manuscript in prep)

  • Using behavioral, demographic, and microbial data collected across multiple years, I am examining whether host contact networks and individual-level attributes correlate with gut microbial turnover in Verreaux’s sifaka.

Background

I graduated from the University of Georgia in 2009 with degrees in Biology and Ecology. My undergraduate research focused on salamander ecology and population modeling (Maerz Lab, University of Georgia). After graduating, I worked as a research assistant in the Park Lab (University of Georgia) investigating the environmental drivers of hemorrhagic disease outbreaks in white-tailed deer. As a National Institutes of Health post-baccalaureate fellow, I characterized viral profiles unique to Sjögren’s Syndrome ( Adeno-Associated Virus Biology Section, MPTB, NIDCR ). Additionally, as a research assistant with the Fogarty International Center, I collated data on the current state of spatial knowledge for zoonoses and emerging infectious diseases that are priority threats to US animal agriculture.