The National Science Foundation has awarded a 5 year grant of approximately $2.0 million to fund a collaborative group of scientists: Mark Young (PI, Montana State), Joshua Weitz (Co-PI, Georgia Tech), and Rachel Whitaker (Co-PI, UIUC) to study the role of viruses in shaping genetic, taxonomic and functional diversity.
The team will investigate a new hypothesis about how viruses may control the structure and function of microbial communities. The traditional view of viruses is that they negatively impact the fitness of infected hosts. In other words, they are viewed strictly as pathogens, in which the host tries to eliminate the virus. This project will explore an alternative hypothesis: that chronic viral infections contribute positively to host fitness, increasing the success of the virus-host pair by protecting their hosts from infection by even more pathogenic viruses.