Paleovirology: Ghosts and Gifts of Ancient Viruses


Wednesday, November 13, 2019, 6:00pm


Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

The speaker Harmit Malik for his lecture, Paleovirology

Free Public Lecture

Harmit Malik, Principal Investigator, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Human genomes are ancient battlegrounds of arms races waged between viruses and their hosts for millions of years. Just as historians reconstruct battlefields to better understand historical battles, evolutionary biologists and virologists can reconstruct how ancient viruses affected their hosts by analyzing their “fossil” remains in our genomes. Paleovirology is the study of such extinct viruses. Harmit Malik will discuss what the study of these viruses can tell us about old and new viral infections, the role they have played in shaping human biology, and the insights they can provide for combating pathogenic viruses today.

Prather Lecture Series

Free event parking at the 52 Oxford Street Garage


This event will be livestreamed on the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture (HMSC) Facebook page and the HMSC website. A recording of this program will be available on the HMSC Lecture Videos page approximately three weeks after the lecture.

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About the Speaker:

Harmit S. Malik studies genetic conflicts that take place between different genomes (e.g., host-virus interactions, mitochondrial conflicts with nuclear genomes) or between components of the same genome (e.g., chromosomal competition at centromeric regions). He is interested in understanding these "molecular arms races" and how they drive recurrent genetic innovation, from the perspective of both evolutionary biology and human disease. A deeper understanding of this phenomenon could have implications for human health, such as providing insights that lead to improved anti-viral drugs. Malik pioneered the study of “evolutionary echoes,” the traces of long-ago viral infections that left their mark on the host immune proteins that combat viruses. Using these echoes, Malik was able to infer the evolutionary influences of ancient, extinct viruses on the immune proteins of primates. This work has helped pioneer the field of paleovirology. A significant research area in the Malik lab is the study of rapid evolution in genes involved in essential cellular processes, such as chromosome segregation and mitochondrial biology. His lab has shown that rapid evolution of centromeric DNA and proteins that are recruited to centromeres can lead to reproductive isolation — the inability to successfully produce offspring — between emerging species and result in defective cell division.

In 2009, Malik was awarded the prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Early Career Scientist award, and he was named an HHMI Investigator in 2013. In 2017, he received the Eli Lilly Prize in Microbiology, the most prestigious prize awarded by the American Society of Microbiology, and in 2019 he was elected to the US National Academy of Sciences. Malik received his BTech in Chemical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, India, and his Ph.D in Biology, at the University of Rochester, NY.