Viruses and other pathogens encounter unique environments within hosts and during transmission between hosts. As a result, the Pfeiffer lab examines how viruses evolve, disseminate, and cause disease and how hosts respond to infection. Using mouse models, Pfeiffer’s team studies how host intestinal bacteria influence infection with enteric viruses such as poliovirus, reovirus, and coxsackievirus. Additionally, they examine the origins of animal innate immunity using choanoflagellates as a model system.
As an Innovation Fund investigator, Pfeiffer’s lab is collaborating with the lab of Nicole King, Ph.D., to combine an expertise in evolutionary biology and host-microbe interactions with that of innate immunity. All organisms, from bacteria to mammals, interact with pathogens and likely have pathogen response systems. There is limited knowledge about how the immune system has evolved from bacteria to mammals. Mammals have complex innate and adaptive immune systems that sense and respond to a variety of microbial patterns, which can make them difficult to study. Together, Pfeiffer and King will utilize choanoflagellates—aquatic, unicellular organisms that lack adaptive immunity—to identify and characterize factors involved in the innate immune system. This work has the potential to further uncover mechanisms of innate immunity and tools that could bolster immune responses in mammals.