Dr Roman Biek - Research Interests

Dr Roman Biek - Research Interests


Room 401, Graham Kerr Building
Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health & Comparative Medicine
College of Medical, Veterinary & Life Sciences
University of Glasgow
G12 8QQ

Tel.: 0141 330 4954
Fax: 0141 330 5971
E-mail: Roman.Biek@glasgow.ac.uk

Institute webpages - including grants, publications and research students

ResearchGate profile

Google Scholar page

I have broad interests in population ecology and genetics but my research focuses on the ecology and evolution of infectious diseases in wild and domestic animal populations.

What are the mechanisms that allow infectious organisms to spread across landscapes, to persist locally, or to infect new hosts? What are the temporal and spatial scales at which these processes take place? How does host ecology, including movement and social interaction, affect parasite population dynamics?

We try to address these types of questions through a combination of genetics, field data and quantitative models. The viral and bacterial pathogens we study tend to be significant agents of disease in human, wildlife and domestic animal populations. Traditionally, the main focus of this work had been on RNA viruses, for which genetic change is rapid enough to simultaneously study ecological and evolutionary dynamics on the same time scale (“phylodynamics”).  Driven by recent advances in sequencing technology, it is now possible to routinely sequence entire pathogen genomes, including those of more slowly evolving organisms such a bacteria. This allows us to apply phylodynamic approaches to a much broader range of microbial pathogens. Integrating the ever-increasing amounts of genetic data with other types of information (e.g. spatial, epidemiological, environmental), and finding new analytical approaches to do so, is also an important aspect of this work. At the same time, the availability of whole genomes offers unprecedented opportunities to gain broad insights into the evolutionary mechanisms underlying the host range of pathogens or their ability to emerge in a novel host species.

Examples of current projects

Emergence, spread and control of rabies virus

Despite the existence of effective vaccines, rabies continuous to be an important public health problem in many parts of the world. In North America, wildlife species (e.g. raccoons, bats) maintain the disease, whereas unvaccinated dogs constitute the main reservoir in Africa. For both these settings, we are interested in the ecological and evolutionary processes taking place during both epidemic and endemic spread of the virus, Specifically, we aim to determine how physical landscape and host population structure affect rabies epidemiology and genetic structure and how this could inform better control strategies. In addition, we are trying to understand how the virus is able to emerge in new host species and the adaptive processes potentially underlying this.

Glasgow University: Katie Hampson, Kirstyn Brunker (postdoc), Nardus Mollentze (PhD student), Hannah Trewby (postdoc), Dan Haydon, Sarah Cleaveland, Tiziana Lembo, Daniel Streicker
APHA, UK: Anthony Fooks, Denise Marston
Surrey University, UK: Dan Horton
Emory University, USA: Leslie Real, Lance Waller
Canadian Food Inspection Agency: Susan Nadin-Davis

NIH, MRC, Lord Kelvin-Adam Smith studentship (Glasgow University)


Using bacterial genomics to untangle transmission dynamics of bovine TB in cattle and badgers

Multi-host pathogens often present particular challenges with respect to identifying reservoirs and targets for control. Bovine tuberculosis (bTB), caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis, is an important disease of livestock that causes a major socio-economic burden in Britain and Ireland. The failure to control the current epidemic in British cattle has been linked to a potential wildlife reservoir, in particular the Eurasian badger (Meles meles). However, the role of badgers in bTB epidemiology remains highly controversial. Our work aims to use bacterial whole genome sequencing to elucidate the transmission dynamics of M. bovis among cattle and badgers by integrating genome-wide genetic variation with large spatio-temporal data sets on incidence, interaction and movement in the two host species.

Glasgow University: Rowland Kao, Hannah Trewby (PhD student), Samantha Lycett
AFBI, UK: Robin Skuce
AHVLA, UK: Noel Smith, Richard Delahay



Evolutionary ecology of Lyme disease 

Lyme borreliosis (LB), the most common arthropod-transmitted disease in Europe, is caused by the bacterial pathogen Borrelia burgdorferi s. l. and is transmitted by ticks. Although many vertebrate species are susceptible to B. burgdorferi infections, only some species (mainly birds and small mammals) maintain the pathogen. Over recent decades, there has been a sharp rise in reported human cases in most European countries, including the UK. Yet, the reasons behind this increase and to what extent it might be linked to changes in host communities or other forms of environmental change remain unclear. We are using ecological field data on tick and pathogen distribution across locations and different host species as well as Borrelia genetics and genome sequencing to identify ecological and evolutionary drivers of Lyme disease risk and how it might be mitigated. 

Glasgow University: Caroline Millins, Paul Everest
Hutton Institute, UK: Lucy Gilbert
INRA, France: Xavier Bailly, Gwenael Vourc’h

Wellcome Trust, BBSRC


Molecular evolution and ecology of bluetongue virus

Bluetongue virus (BTV) is a vector-borne, segmented RNA virus, responsible for a globally important disease in livestock. In recent decades, repeated incursions of BTV into Europe have caused major outbreaks and significant economic damage. However, the major drivers behind BTV emergence, spread and persistence remain poorly understood. We are using extensive data sets of BTV genomes and accompanying metadata to gain insights into molecular evolution of the virus, including the role of viral reassortment (the exchange of genome sequence) in phenotypic change and emergence. We are further applying phylogeographic and coalescent-based approaches to genomic data in order to reveal patterns and environmental drivers of spatial spread and viral persistence.

Glasgow University: Maude Jacquot (postdoc), Massimo Palmarini, Joseph Hughes
The Pirbright Institute, UK: Peter Mertens, Kyriaki Nomikou
Sanger Institute, UK: Paul Kellam

Wellcome Trust


Epidemiology of anthrax in sub-Saharan Africa

Glasgow University: Tiziana Lembo, Taya Forde (postdoc), Ruth Zadoks
Robert-Koch Institute, Germany: Fabian Leendertz, Sebastien Calvignac-Spencer

European Commission