The history of scientific engagement with viruses has been mostly adversarial. At best we’ve viewed viruses as parasites, using cells as factories for making more viruses and offering nothing in return. At worst we’ve seen viruses as lethal killers bent on destruction. But, imagine a world without viruses. Only recently, we would have cheered at the thought. However, enlightened views coming from observations of viruses within ecosystems and even the human genome now call us to recognize the deep-rooted evolutionary connections between viruses and cells and the critical services viruses perform in support of cellular life. This talk will highlight aspects of our extraordinary new understanding of viruses on Earth, their roles in global ecosystems, and the vast unknown pool of genetic diversity contained within their ranks.
Eric Wommack Bio:
Eric Wommack graduated Summa Cum Laude from Emory University with bachelor degrees in Biological Sciences and Economics. Realizing that the number of economic theories always exceeds the number of economists and ignoring significant opportunity costs, he chose the more glamorous, albeit indigent, path of graduate work in the life sciences. After graduating from Emory he was awarded a Bobby Jones Fellowship to pursue a M.Sc. in Physiology under the mentorship of Prof. Ian Johnson at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. After obtaining his M.Sc. and raising his golf game from abysmal to lousy, he left St. Andrews and ultimately obtained a Ph.D. exploring the role of viruses in marine ecosystems under the mentorship of Prof. Rita R. Colwell at the University of Maryland. He was awarded a National Research Council fellowship for post-doctoral work investigating microbial degradation of chiral pesticides under the mentorship of David Lewis (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) and Prof. Robert Hodson at the University of Georgia. He is now a Full Professor at the University of Delaware and subjects his students to the endless toil of digging through metagenomic sequence data to expand understanding of the biological capabilities and ecological roles of viruses within natural ecosystems.