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Science On Tap - Phylogenetics and Epidemics

Oct 15, 2015 5:30 PM - 7:00 PM
UnQuarked Wine Room
145 Central Park Square, Los Alamos, New Mexico 87544 USA
Thomas Leitner, Los Alamos National Laboratory
Jessica Privette
505 667-0375
Science on Tap - Every Third Thursday

Event Description

Science On Tap happens every third Thursday of the month, featuring a new topic each week. It begins with an informal 15-minute talk and is followed by a lively group discussion.

Phylogenetics and Epidemics

Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory are investigating the complex relationships between the spread of the HIV virus in a population (epidemiology) and the actual, rapid evolution of the virus (phylogenetics) within each patient’s body.

“We have developed novel ways of estimating epidemics dynamics such as who infected whom, and the true population incidence of infection versus mere diagnoses dates,” said Thomas Leitner, principal investigator. “Obviously, knowledge about these things is important for public health monitoring, decision making and intervention campaigns, and further to forensic investigations.”

The team models the uninfected population using traditional differential equations on the computer; this is done for computational speed, because an agent-based component is much more demanding. Once a person is infected, he/she becomes an “agent” in computer modeling terms, and the model starts following their behavior individually, as well as the viral HIV evolution within the person.

This new modeling approach distinguishes between susceptible and infected individuals to capture the full infection history, including contact tracing data for infected individuals. The uninfected individuals are modeled at a population level and stratified by transmission risk and social group. The social network in this model forms – and can change – during the simulation. Thus, the model is much more realistic than traditional models.

The advantage of this epidemiological model, Leitner said, is that “it allows us to simulate many possible outcomes of epidemics with known parameters of human interactions, where social networks form as part of the agent interactions. It is a flexible system that has the ability to describe realistic human populations.”

A scientist in the Los Alamos National Laboratory's Theoretical Biology and Biophysics Group, Thomas Leitner has been working on tracking phylogenetics and epidemics. Join us at this Science on Tap beginning Thursday, October 15, at 5:30 PM at the UnQuarked Wine Room at 145 Central Park Square in downtown Los Alamos, New Mexico.