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Duquesne University’s Darwin Day Examines Influenza: the Evolution of a Pandemic

Just weeks after Pennsylvania’s first flu-related death of the 2010-2011 season, a national influenza virus expert will discuss evolutionary differences between pandemics and the seasonal flu.

Influenza virus expert Dr. Jeffery Taubenberger, M.D., Ph.D., will examine the subject during his free Darwin Day lecture, Influenza: the Evolution of a Pandemic, at Duquesne University on Wednesday, Dec. 1, at 7 p.m. in Duquesne’s Power Center Ballroom.

Taubenberger is chief of the viral pathogenesis and evolution section for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a division of the National Institutes of Health. His research seeks to understand the evolutionary biology and genetics of influenza viruses to determine why some strains produce the typical seasonal flu while others become global pandemics. As part of this, Taubenberger’s lab is working toward understanding where new strains of viruses come from, including their ability to jump from one species, such as pigs or birds, to another, such as humans.

“In being both a scientist studying evolution and a physician, Dr. Taubenberger is the perfect person to explain the importance of evolutionary theory in modern medicine and,  especially, in the ongoing fight against viral pandemics,” said Dr. Michael Seaman, Duquesne biology professor and coordinator of this year’s Darwin Day lecture.

According to Seaman, medicine in general stands to gain much from a larger incorporation of evolutionary theory by offering insights into how and why we get sick. Viruses evolve very rapidly, often recombining parts of genes from different subtypes as they seek out new niches to exploit. This is partly why it is so difficult to create vaccines against some of the most common disease-causing viruses, such as those that cause influenza and AIDS.

Darwin Day, an annual celebration of the life and work of Charles Darwin and an opportunity to emphasize the importance of quality science education in today’s world,  is hosted by Duquesne’s Department of Biological Sciences and the Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences.

For more information, visit www.duq.edu/darwin.

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.