Dustin Brisson

Associate Professor of Biology
Evolution and Ecology of Disease Systems Laboratory, Director
209 Leidy Laboratories
Ecology and Biodiversity
Genetics, Epigenetics, Genomics

Ph.D., Stony Brook University, 2006

Research Interests: 
Director of the Evolution and Ecology of Disease Systems Laboratory 
Help fund Lyme disease research - Make a gift to the EEDS lab

Burroughs Wellcome Fellow

Disease ecology, molecular evolution, microbial evolution

My research assumes that organisms that can cause disease manifestations are indeed living organisms with there own ecologies and evolutionary histories - similar to plants, animals, and fungi. Using this as an intellectual foundation, I investigate the ecology (interactions affecting distribution and abundance) and evolution (change in geno- and phenotype due to neutral or selected processes) of disease causing organisms and their natural host populations. This approach is becoming popular in the study of organisms that cause disease in humans and agriculturally important species such as West Nile virus, wheat rust, and Lyme disease. Understanding the natural biology of these organisms is a crucial step in the long-term control of diseases.

My primary research has focused on the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi, in forest in the Northeastern United States. B. burgdorferi is carried among vertebrate hosts by the black-legged tick, Ixodes scapularis. These ticks occasionally bite humans and, if infected, can transmit the bacteria, resulting in human Lyme disease. For the majority of time, B. burgdorferi is passed among feral vertebrates such as mice, shrews, and chipmunks. I have focused on the interactions between these host species and B. burgdorferi genotypes that affect the fitness and dynamics of pathogen population. The fitness of B. burgdorferi, as measured by the number of new ticks that acquire the pathogen, is equivalent to the human risk of contracting Lyme disease. We recently discovered that each vertebrate species can host only a subset of the B. burgdorferi genotypes, but the genotype subset hosted differs among species. Thus, all fifteen genotypes coexist in northeastern forests as a multiple niche polymorphism where vertebrate species act as niches - the genetic diversity of the pathogen is maintained by the biodiversity of hosts (Brisson and Dykhuizen, 2004). In addition, the abundance of each genotype in ticks - equivalent to the human Lyme disease risk - is directly related to the composition and relative abundance of host species (Brisson and Dykhuizen, 2006).

One of the most important problems in population ecology and disease ecology involves the development of theory that will allow prediction of the dynamics of populations of disease causing organisms. I have begun to address this area with a biologically realistic mathematical model that predicts the frequency of each B. burgdorferi genotype from empirical data on the density of host species and the rate each genotype is transmitted from hosts to ticks. Thus, by knowing the densities of each host species, we can predict proportion of ticks carrying each B. burgdorferi genotype, including the four human infectious genotypes (Sienost et al., 1999). This model can be used to predict the risk of human Lyme disease in locales around the Northeastern United States.

Work in my lab is not limited to ecology or B. burgdorferi. Current projects include data-based modeling, molecular evolution, experimental evolution, and public health research. I am open to studies of any sort that are hypothesis driven and involve the interactions between a microbe and a eukaryote. These interactions need not be pathogenic, mutualistic relationships are equally interesting and often follow a similar theoretical framework.

Selected Publications: 

List of Publications from Google Scholar

List of Publications from Pubmed 

Khatchikian*, CE, Nadelman RB, Nowakowski J, Schwartz I, Wormser GP, Brisson D.  Evidence for strain-specific immunity in patients treated for early Lyme disease. Infection and Immunity 82(4):1408-13

Graves, C.J., V.I.D. Ros, B. Stevenson, P.D. Sneigowski, and D. Brisson*. 2013. Natural selection promotes antigenic evolvability. PLoS Pathogens 9(11):e1003766.

Foley, E.A., C. Katchikian, J. Hwang, J. Ancca-Juárez, K. Borrini-Mayori, V.R. Quıspe-Machaca, M.Z. Levy, D. Brisson*. Population structure of the Chagas disease vector, Triatoma infestans, at the urban-rural interface. Molecular Ecology 22:5162–5171.

Brisson, D., W. Zhou, B.L. Jutras, S. Casjens, and B. Stevenson*. 2013. Distribution of cp32 prophages among Lyme disease causing spirochetes and natural diversity of their lipoprotein-encoding erp loci. Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 79(13):4115-4128.

Mitchell B. Lerner, Jennifer Dailey, Brett R. Goldsmith, Dustin Brisson, A.T. Charlie Johnson. 2013. Detecting Lyme disease using antibody-functionalized single-walled carbon nanotube transistors. Biosensors and Bioelectronics 45:163-167.

Ozlem Onder, Wenguang Shao, Brian D. Kemps, Henry Lam and Dustin Brisson. 2013. Identifying sources of tick blood meals using unidenitified tandem mass spectral libraries. NATURE communication 4:1746

Maarten J. Voordouw, Haley Tupper, Ozlem Onder, Godefroy Devevey, Christopher J. Graves, Brian D. Kemps, and Dustin Brisson. 2013. Reductions in human Lyme disease risk due to the effects of oral vaccination on tick-to-mouse and mouse-to-tick transmission. Vector-borne and Zoonotic Diseases 13(4):203-214.

Robert B. Nadelman, Klara Hanincova, Priyanka Mukherjee, Dionysios Liveris, John Nowakowski, Donna McKenna, Dustin Brisson, Denise Cooper, Susan Bittker, Gul Madison, Diane Holmgren, Ira Schwartz, and Gary P. Wormser. 2012. Differentiation of Reinfection from Relapse in Lyme Disease Patients with Recurrent Erythema Migrans Using Molecular Microbiologic Tools. New England Journal of Medicine 367(20):1883-1890.

Camilo E. Khatchikian, Melissa Prusinski, Melissa Stone, P. Bryon Backenson, Ing-Nang Wang, Michael Z. Levy, and Dustin Brisson. 2012. Contemporary population expansion of blacklegged Ticks (Ixodes scapularis). Ecosphere 3(10):85 

Dustin Brisson, Dan Drecktrah, Christian H. Eggers, and D. Scott Samuels. 2012. Genetics of Borrelia burgdorferi. Annual Review of Genetics 46:515-36

Özlem Önder, Parris T. Humphrey, Brian McOmber, Farida Korobova, Nicholas Francella, Doron C. Greenbaum, Dustin Brisson. 2012. OspC is a potent plasminogen-receptor on the surface of Borrelia burgdorferiJournal of Biological Chemistry 287(20):16860-8

Helene Morlon, Brian D. Kemps, Joshua B. Plotkin, and Dustin Brisson. 2012. Explosive radiation of a bacterial species group. Evolution 64(9):2653-2663

Humphrey, P.T., D.A. Caporale, and D. Brisson. 2010. Uncoordinated phylogeography of Borrelia burgdorferi and its tick vector, Ixodes scapularisEvolution64(9):2653-2663.

Brisson, D., M.F. Vandermause, J.K. Meece, K.D. Reed, D.E. Dykhuizen. 2010. Shared and vicariant evolutionary histories of Northeastern and Midwestern Borrelia burgdorferi populations.Emerging Infectious Diseases 16(6):911-917.

Dykhuizen, D.E. and D. Brisson 2010. Evolutionary Genetics of Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato. In D.S. Samuels and J.D. Radolf (Eds.), Borrelia: Molecular Biology, Host Interaction and Pathogenesis (Chap 9). Norwich, UK: Caister Academic Press. ISBN: 978-1-904455-58-5.

Brisson, D., D. E. Dykhuizen, and R.S. Ostfeld. 2008. Conspicuous impacts of inconspicuous hosts on the Lyme disease epidemic. Proceedings of the Royal Society, Biological Sciences 275(1631):227-35.

Brisson, D. and D. E. Dykhuizen. 2004. ospC diversity in Borrelia burgdorferi: different hosts are different niches.Genetics 168:713-722.

Brisson, D. 2003. The directed mutation controversy in an evolutionary context. Critical Reviews in Microbiology 29:25-35.

Other Affiliations: