As a Branco Weiss Fellow, Dr. Cara Brook will combine approaches from field ecology, virology, genomics, and quantitative epidemiology to decipher the role of bats as reservoirs for some of the world’s most virulent emerging viruses, including rabies, Ebola, Nipah, and SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent in COVID-19.
- Miller Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Integrative Biology, UC Berkeley, USA, 2017-2021
- PhD and MSc in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, USA, 2012-2017
- BSc in Earth Systems, Stanford University, USA, 2006-2010
- L’Oréal-USA For Women in Science Fellow, 2020-2021
- Miller Postdoctoral Fellowship, UC Berkeley, (2017-2020)
- US National Science Foundation, Graduate Research Fellowship (2013-2017)
- Firestone Medal, Undergraduate Research Excellence, Stanford University (2010)
- Earth Systems Award, Senior Thesis Excellence, Stanford University (2010)
- CNN special: Bats: The Mystery Behind COVID-19
- National Science Foundation’s ‘4 Awesome Discoveries’ video series
- The Economist: Bats spread viruses
- Science News: Bats’ immune defenses may be why their viruses can be so deadly to people
Branco Weiss Fellow Since
Disease Ecology, Viral Evolution, Aging
Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Chicago, USA
Bats are natural reservoirs for the most virulent viral zoonoses (pathogens that transmit from wildlife to human hosts), including Nipah henipavirus, Ebola filovirus, and SARS, MERS, and SARS-CoV-2 coronaviruses. Bats appear to host these otherwise virulent viruses without themselves experiencing disease. Bats are also remarkably long-lived, demonstrating lifespans 3.5x longer than those of equivalently sized placental mammals from non-bat orders. It is hypothesized that the evolution of mammalian flight, a physiologically demanding activity unique to bats, necessitated prerequisite evolution of novel molecular pathways to mitigate oxidative damage accrued during metabolism, resulting in downstream promotion of viral tolerance and cellular longevity. However, to date, the mechanistic links between viral tolerance, aging, and viral evolution remain largely unexplored.
Dr. Cara Brook will combine approaches from field ecology, virology, genomics, and quantitative epidemiology to elucidate mechanisms driving the evolution of viral tolerance and longevity in bats, and the consequences of these host defense strategies on the evolution of virulent viruses. Specifically, Dr. Brook will leverage data from her longtime field study investigating viral dynamics in wild fruit bat hosts for potentially zoonotic pathogens in Madagascar, along with modern molecular and computational approaches to (a) identify if viral infection accelerates aging in bats, (b) determine whether the same genetic mechanisms both deter aging and promote viral tolerance, and (c) elucidate the impacts of these mechanisms on virus evolution. Dr. Brook’s holistic, cross-scale approach will be critical to predicting and preventing future zoonoses.