1. One of the major open questions in molecular evolution is to identify the dominant constraints that shape protein evolution. The commonly held view is that most constraints are caused by protein function. However, recent evidence indicates that selection for adequate protein expression and folding may play a more important role in shaping evolutionary rates than selection for protein function. Wilke is studying how point mutations and recombination affect protein folding, how a protein's structure affects its evolutionary rate, and more generally is working towards a theory of protein evolution firmly grounded in protein biochemistry.
2. RNA viruses (such as influenza virus or human immunodeficiency virus) tend to have high mutation rates, and evolve rapidly in reaction to immune response or treatment. Frequently, they adapt to new hosts, and the majority of newly emerging infectious diseases are RNA viruses that cross the species barrier from animal host to human (examples are SARS or the avian influenza). However, a high mutation rate also implies frequent deleterious mutations. Wilke is studying questions such as how RNA viruses can thrive under high rates of deleterious mutations, how they can mask the effect of deleterious mutations under coinfection, and how they adapt to changing hosts.
3. The origins of theoretical population genetics date back to the early 20th century, and today the basic theory of population genetics is well understood. Nevertheless, many open questions remain. Wilke is working mainly on the speed of adaptation in asexual populations, on neutral evolution, and on population dynamics in time-dependent environments.
Affiliated Research Units
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