BIOE 149 Disease Ecology

Prerequisite(s): BIOL 20A, and BIOE 20B and 20C and 107

First and foremost, this is a class in problem solving.  Although the problems we focus on are related to disease ecology, the framework, concepts and techniques we will develop can be used for everything ranging from determining the optimal price for the next iPhone to managing fisheries. The course includes the theoretical/mathematical underpinnings of disease ecology which include basic population models and basic species interaction models from community ecology. We will explore also the ecology of transmission of different types of pathogens (viruses, bacteria, protozoans, worms) of humans and other animals and plants, and the ways that diseases can impact host populations and communities. I’ll touch on some of the challenges with treating and preventing disease through vaccination that stem from the rapid evolution of pathogens, and how changes in the environment (e.g. land use change, climate change, species loss) alter disease.

The course will provide an understanding of the basic mechanics of disease and why, for example, Ebola virus, which frequently kills 50-90% of infected people within 3 weeks, is a much smaller public health threat than influenza virus, that kills less than 1%, and how we were able to stop the SARS virus epidemic quickly, but we probably won’t ever be able to eradicate influenza. The course could provide a launching point for a career in infectious disease, and all students will be much better informed citizens who can contribute to the public health of their communities and to the conservation of biodiversity.  However, the most valuable skill students will take home is an ability to think critically in solving problems.  This includes separating the things that can be ignored from those that must be considered carefully, determining what information is needed, and then being able to integrate available information to provide solutions to the problem in advance.