Researcher honoured for outstanding dissertation paper

Apr 14th, 2014

Dr. Amy Hurford
Researcher honoured for outstanding dissertation paper

Dr. Amy Hurford has won the R.A. Fisher Prize from the Society for the Study of Evolution.

The award is presented annually for an outstanding PhD dissertation paper published in the journal Evolution during a given calendar year and comes with a $1,000 honourarium.  Her paper, co-written with Dr. Troy Day, her former supervisor at Queen’s University, is titled Immune evasion and the evolution of molecular mimicry in parasites.

In the paper, Dr. Hurford explored a variety of hypotheses about the co-evolution of vertebrate immune systems and pathogens, using mathematical models. One of her primary goals was to understand the evolutionary origins of infection-induced autoimmune disorders.

She developed mathematical models using techniques from dynamical systems and game theory to better understand the conditions under which we might expect pathogens to evolve molecular mimicry. She and her co-author analyzed the patterns of molecular mimicry that are expected under two hypotheses regarding molecular mimicry by parasites. One of their findings was that the highest risk of autoimmunity comes from parasites that display intermediate levels of mimicry. Interestingly, they also explored the consequences of different medical interventions on the evolution of mimicry and the incidence of autoimmunity.

Dr. Hurford received her Ph.D. in 2011 from the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at Queens University. Following postdoctoral appointments at York University and the University of Toronto, she began a faculty position at Memorial University of Newfoundland, where she is jointly appointed to the departments of Biology and Mathematics and Statistics. Her research is in theoretical ecology, evolution and epidemiology.

The R.A. Fisher Prize plays tribute to one of the most distinguished evolutionists of the 20th Century, Sir Ronald Fisher, who with JBS Haldane and Sewall Wright, developed theoretical population genetics and established its central position within evolutionary biology.


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