The Luijckx Lab
I am the William C. Campbell Lecturer in Parasite Biology in the School of Natural Sciences at Trinity College Dublin. My lab tries to unravel evolutionary and ecological theories pertaining to hosts and their parasites. We have a keen interest in trying to understand what drives the outbreak and evolution of infectious diseases while also trying to understand the decade’s old evolutionary puzzle which is the existence of sexual reproduction.
The mystery of sex
Sexual reproduction is the dominant form of reproduction among the majority of animals and plants. However compared to asexual reproduction, sexual reproduction comes with substantial costs. In species were males provide little or no parental care, sexual reproduction has a two-fold disadvantage compared to asexual reproduction. Furthermore, recombination during sexual reproduction breaks up well adapted genes combinations. So why is sex so prevalent? In an attempt to solve this mystery I use laboratory model systems (primarily Daphnia and their parasites) to test theories such as Hill-Robertson interference, The Red Queen Theory and Muller’s ratchet.
Disease outbreak and severity
One of the key determinants of parasite spread is host density: theory predicts that lower host densities slow disease spread, and at a certain point host densities are insufficient to sustain parasite transmission. As this theory forms the basis for vaccination programs it is surprising that support for this theory is primarily based on correlative and circumstantial evidence. Moreover, there are ample reasons why disease dynamics may be more complex than portrayed by current theoretical models. Indeed climate change, host parasite coevolution, host diversity and biotic interactions (e.g. predation, competition) may all alter the outcome and frequency of disease outbreaks. By using a combination of individual based measures, genetics, experimental evolution and experimental epidemiology my lab uses Daphnia- parasite systems to unravel the factors that contribute to the spread of infectious disease.