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Virus evolution topic of Darwin talk at UH April 2

HOUSTON, March 31, 2009 An Ivy League biologist who researches viruses to determine how and why they evolve to cause disease will speak at the University of Houston April 2. The lecture is free and open to the public.

Paul Turner, Yale University associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, will speak from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Thursday in Room 100 of the Science and Engineering Classroom Building Auditorium. His talk is titled "The Evolutionary Ecology of Viruses."

The impact of the HIV-AIDS epidemic on people living in the United States motivated Turner to study virus evolution. Specifically, he relies on evolution in action in the laboratory known as experimental evolution to study the genetics and evolution of viruses. In his talk, Turner will review recent research about how prior ecological history of viruses affects their future ability to cause disease.

His talk is part of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics (NSM) Dean's Lecture Series and Darwin 2009 Houston, a celebration of the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of publication of Darwin's "On the Origin of the Species."

According to Turner, viruses such as HIV can evolve rapidly because they contain RNA genomes that readily mutate. Thus, RNA viruses provide efficient systems to study evolution in action. Results of such studies help scientists understand how deadly pathogens evolve.

Turner often performs basic research on non-dangerous viruses that serve as models for important pathogens. An example is the vesicular stomatitis virus that does not cause disease in humans but provides an excellent model for the sometimes deadly Dengue virus and other viruses transmitted by mosquitoes. He also studies virus phi-6 that has genetic properties similar to the influenza virus.

This presentation is sponsored by the NSM Office of the Dean, the Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professorate and the Houston-Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation. The NSM Dean's Lectures are designed to expose minority students to the possibilities of research and encourage them to pursue graduate studies in science and engineering.

Turner's presentation will be Webcast live at and archived at

For more about Darwin 2009 Houston, visit

WHO: Paul Turner, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, Yale University

WHAT: NSM Dean's Lecture Series
"The Evolutionary Ecology of Viruses"

WHEN: 4 to 5:30 p.m., Thursday, April 2

WHERE: University of Houston
Science and Engineering Classroom Building (SEC), room 100
Off Cullen Boulevard, Entrance 14


Contact: Lisa Merkl
University of Houston

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