Michael Worobey

Department Head

Louise Foucar Marshall Science Research Professor

Positions and Education: 

  • Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, 2011-present.
  • Associate Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, 2009-2011.
  • Assistant Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, 2003-2009.
  • Postdoctoral researcher, Department of Zoology/St. John’s College, University of Oxford. 2001-2003.
  • D. Phil., Department of Zoology, University of Oxford. 2001.
  • B. Sc. (Hons), Department of Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser University.

Honors and Awards: 

  • 2010: 19th Canadian Association of HIV Researchers Conference, Distinguished Speaker
  • 2009: Sterling Prize in Support of Controversy
  • 2009: Distinguished Alumnus, Department of Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser University
  • 2009: 16th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, Distinguished Speaker
  • 2008: National Academy of Science, US Frontiers of Science Kavli Fellow
  • 2006-2011: David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Packard Fellowship
  • 2001: Junior Research Fellowship, St. John’s College, University of Oxford
  • 1999: NSERC postgraduate Scholarship
  • 1997: Rhodes Scholarship

Research Interests: 

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.

Selected Publications: 

  1. Han GZ, Worobey M. An endogenous foamy-like viral element in the coelacanth genome: evidence for an ancient marine origin of retroviruses. 2012. PLOS Pathogens 8: e1002790.
  2. Han GZ, Worobey M. Endogenous lentiviral elements in the genomes of the Mustelidae. 2012. Molecular Biology and Evolution 29: 2905-2908.
  3. Worobey M, Telfer P, Souquière S, Hunter M, Coleman CA, Metzger MJ, Reed P, Makuwa M, Hearn G, Honarvar S, Roques P, Apetrei C, Kazanji M, Marx PA. Island Biogeography Reveals the Deep History of SIV. 2010. Science 329: 1487.
  4. Ochman H, Worobey M, Kuo C-H, Ndjango JBN, Peeters M, Hahn BH, Hugenholz P. Evolutionary Relationships of Wild Hominids Recapitulated by Gut Microbial Communities. 2010. PLoS Biology 8: e1000546.
  5. *Smith GJD, *Vijaykrishna D, *Bahl J, *Lycett SJ, *Worobey M, *Pybus OG, Ma SK, Cheung CL, Raghwani J, Bhatt S, Peiris JSM, Guan Y & Rambaut A. Origins and evolutionary dynamics of the 2009 swine-origin H1N1 influenza A epidemic. 2009. Nature 459: 1122-1125.
*These authors contributed equally to this work.
  6. Worobey M, Gemmel L, Teuwen D, Haselkorn T, Kunstman K, Bunce M, Kabongo J-M, Kalengayi R, Muyembe JJ, Van Marck E, Gilbert MTP, Wolinsky SM. 2008. Direct evidence of extensive HIV-1 diversity in Kinshasa by 1960. Nature 455: 661-664.
  7. Worobey M. 2008. Phylogenetic evidence against evolutionary stasis and natural abiotic reservoirs for influenza A virus. Journal of Virology 82: 3769-3774.
  8. Gilbert MTP, Rambaut R, Spira T, Wlasiuk G, Pitchenik A, Worobey M. 2007. The emergence of HIV/AIDS in the Americas and beyond. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 104: 18566-18570. (see also Commentary article by Holmes)
  9. Worobey M, Bjork, A, Wertheim JO. 2007. Point, counterpoint: the evolution of pathogenic viruses and their human hosts. Annual Review of Ecology Evolution and Systematics 38:515-540.
  10. Gilbert MTP, Haselkorn T, Bunce M, Sanchez JJ, Lucas S, Jewell LD, van Marck E, and Worobey M.  2007. The isolation of nucleic acids from fixed paraffin embedded tissues - which methods are useful when?  PLoS ONE 2: e537.
  11. Gilbert MTP, Sanchez JJ, Haselkorn T, Jewell LD, Lucas SB, Van Marck E, Morling N, and Worobey M. 2007. Multiplex PCR with minisequencing as an effective higher-throughput SNP typing method for formalin-fixed tissue. Electrophoresis 28: 2361-2367.
  12. Worobey, M, Santiago, ML, Keele, BF, Ndjango, N, Joy, JB, Labama, L Dhed'a, D, Rambaut, A, Sharp, PM, Shaw, GM and Hahn, BH 2004.  Origin of AIDS: contaminated polio vaccine theory refuted. Nature 428: 820.
  13. Lemey, P, Pybus, OG, Rambaut, A, Drummond, AJ, Robertson, DL, Roques, P, Worobey, M, Vandamme, A-M 2004. The Molecular Population Genetics of HIV-1 Group O. Genetics 167:1059-1068.
  14. Walker, PR, Worobey, M, Rambaut, A, Holmes, EC, Pybus, OG. 2003. Sexual transmission of HIV in Africa: other routes of infection are not the dominant contributor to the African epidemic.  Nature 422: 679.
  15. Worobey, M, Rambaut, A, Pybus, OG, Robertson, D L 2002. Questioning the evidence for genetic recombination in the 1918 "Spanish flu" virus.  Science 296: 211.
  16. Worobey, M 2001. A novel approach to detecting and measuring recombination: new insights into evolution in viruses, bacteria, and mitochondria.  Mol Biol Evol 18: 1425-1434.
  17. Worobey, M and Holmes, E C 1999.  Evolutionary aspects of recombination in RNA viruses. Journal of General Virology 80: 2535-2543.
  18. Worobey, M, Rambaut, A and Holmes, E C 1999.  Widespread intra-serotype recombination in natural populations of dengue virus. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 96: 7352-7357.