By Abby Weingarten
What is evolutionary medicine? How does human behavior guide changes in pathogens? And how are vaccines developed?
New College Biology Professor Tiffany Doan, Ph.D. will be exploring all of these questions (and more) this fall.
Her two lectures: “Evolutionary Medicine of COVID-19” on Sept. 17 and “The Search for a SARS-CoV-2 Vaccine” on Sept. 21, are part of a fully remote upcoming course at New College entitled “COVID-19: An Interdisciplinary Approach to the Pandemic.”
“The whole interdisciplinary nature of this course is exciting, with so many experts from different fields,” Doan said. “One of the things I’m excited about is that we’re taking a positive approach to understanding COVID-19. It’s a depressing topic but we’ll look at solutions.”
Assistant Professor of Religion Manuel Lopez, Ph.D. and Digital Humanities Librarian Cal Murgu coordinated this three-month-long series, which involves 20 New College faculty members teaching 28 lectures. Sessions will be held from 12:30 to 1:50 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays, starting with a mini class on August 20 and ending on November 23.
“For my ‘Evolutionary Medicine’ lecture, I’ll be talking about what makes new viruses pop up, what makes them change, and how we can better understand how human behavior can guide the evolution of pathogens,” Doan said. “With the ‘Vaccine’ lecture, it’s more about how vaccines are developed, how they prevent the spread of disease, and how they contribute to altering the progress of the pandemic.”
Comprehensively, the COVID-19 course will explore the current healthcare crisis not only from a biological standpoint but also from epidemiological, historical, political, economic and sociological angles. Points of view from experts in data science, literature, ethics, religion and the arts will be incorporated. Some sessions will be prerecorded and others will be interactive—all on the Canvas online platform.
“Evolutionary medicine is a topic I’m excited to be talking about; I’ve taught tutorials twice at New College about it already. If more doctors knew about this, the practice of medicine would be much different,” Doan said. “Humans have the ability to direct the evolution of viruses (it is known as the Transmission Rate Hypothesis, developed by Paul Ewald), so you put yourself in the mind of the pathogen and see what the pathogen wants in order to reproduce and spread.”
Doan herself is an evolutionary biologist and ecologist who specializes in the study of reptiles. This semester, she will be teaching two sessions of a Foundations of Biology laboratory, as well as an Organismic Biology course. For her COVID-19 lectures, specifically, Doan wants her students to consider ways in which the transmission rate of the virus can be altered (or, hopefully, slowed) via behavioral changes.
“This idea, this Transmission Rate Hypothesis, has been tested with diseases like HIV. But, with COVID, because it is so new, this is all theoretical,” Doan said. “At the very beginning, HIV was spreading like wildfire. COVID doesn’t evolve quite as fast but the principles are the same. We’re going to examine what people can do to shift the lethality of the virus.”
In both lectures, Doan will encourage students to conceptualize and develop action plans to help reduce the virulence of COVID-19. Students will complete multiple assignments, including a journal (allowing students to process their own personal experience of the pandemic), an op-ed (an original opinion piece based on facts and data), a series of interviews with someone affected by COVID-19, and an ArcGIS StoryMap (a combination of narratives, maps and data to tell the story of a place affected by the crisis).
Other lectures throughout the COVID-19 series will cover the history of epidemiology, microbiology and quarantine; outbreaks and the tools used to track the data; the economic impact of the virus; pandemics in literature; and social determinants and of health and community-engaged approaches.
“I’m only teaching two days but I’ll definitely be attending all of the lectures,” Doan said. “I can’t wait to hear all the different perspectives from the faculty. It should be fascinating.”
For more information on the course, visit dss.ncf.edu/covid19/index.php/Main_Page
To watch the mini class, go to youtu.be/bTOJYJT0wz8
Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.