Current Research Projects in the Math Biology Program
- Predict the progress and spread of Chronic Wasting Disease, a lethal prion infection of deer moose and elk (like Mad Cow Disease), in southeastern Utah, using geographic (satellite) maps of landscape cover and GPS collar trajectories of individual deer. What are the chances that the disease will spread from the La Sals to the Abajo mountains, and what can UDWR do to prevent it?
- Design optimal Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR, which massively amplifies target DNA) protocols for use in battlefield toxin detection and acute care applications. Can rapid, quantitative PCR detect biological pathogens quickly enough to provide real-time, actionable detection?
- Simulate the rate at which algae remove excess nitrogen and phosphorus from Logan's `square lakes' and predict how Daphnia, a fresh-water zooplankton, can erode the capacity of algae to treat Logan's sewage. Under what conditions will the algae remove pollutants down to EPA outflow standards?
- Understand how temperatures control the symbiosis between Mountain Pine Beetle (an aggressive bark beetle which has destroyed 70 million acres of pine forest over the last decade) and its `blue-stain' fungal symbionts (which aid it in killing trees and simultaneously destroy the value of the affected timber). Will temperature changes experienced in the West make the problem better or worse?
- Construct models for the progress of a virulent plague in Cache Valley, using data collected during the Humans vs. Zombies game on USU campus. These models cast doubt on off-the-shelf `S-I-R' models used by the CDC to predict the course of human epidemics; what are the next generation of socially active models for disease spread?
- Design optimal policies to protect crops or lifestock from insect pests in area-wide integrated pest management programs using release of sterile males, pheromones to produce mate disruption, and pheromone traps. These methods have been used successfully against Tsetse flies (which vector "sleeping sickness" in humans) and the Mediterranean Fruit Fly, which impacts fruit, nut and coffee crops. How many and where should the expensive sterile males be released to keep pest species at bay?
- Predict the course of the Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic in Colorado pine forests using climate projections and detailed geographic information on tree densities. How could landowners have stopped the outbreak that lead to hundreds of millions of dollars of damage?