Michael Worobey uses an evolutionary approach to understand the origins, emergence and control of pathogens, in particular RNA viruses and retroviruses such as HIV and influenza virus. He integrates fieldwork; theory and methodology; molecular biology; and (especially) molecular evolutionary analysis of gene sequences in a phylogenetic framework.
Questions under investigation include: (1) When, where, and how have AIDS viruses crossed into humans and spread worldwide? (2) What can viral sequences sampled from different time-points reveal about the tempo and mode of evolution? (3) How did the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic emerge and why was it so severe?
Wet-lab projects involve the recovery of damaged and/or ancient RNA/DNA from a variety of sources including paraffin-embedded human tissue specimens, blood smears, and museum specimens. Current efforts include (1) reconstructing the emergence of HIV-1 group M in central Africa and North America, and (2) investigating the evolution of AIDS-related viruses in wild-living primates using non-invasively-collected samples.