Department of Ecology and Evolution and the College
Sarah Cobey’s research focuses on the interplay of ecological and evolutionary dynamics in pathogens. Specifically, her work investigates the ways in which natural and vaccine-induced immunity impose selective pressures on pathogens, contributing to their distinctive epidemiological patterns and occasionally rapid evolution. She and members of her lab use a combination of statistical, mathematical, and computational approaches to develop and evaluate theory.
Cobey’s past research has helped to unravel the dynamics of a common commensal bacterium, the pneumococcus, and influenza viruses. A model she developed with collaborators showed how pneumococcal serotypes coexist as a result of two forms of acquired immunity. This explanation provided strong support for the theory that species distributions arise jointly from equalizing (neutral) and stabilizing (niche) mechanisms. Her work on influenza demonstrated the importance of epistatic interactions and episodic selective sweeps in driving viral evolution. Her current projects span the dynamics of B cell evolution in response to acute infections to methods of inferring pathogen interactions from different types of observations.
Cobey received her PhD in ecology and evolutionary biology from the University of Michigan and her BA from Princeton University. She was
a National Institutes of Health Ruth Kirschstein Fellow at the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Cobey joined the University of Chicago faculty in 2013.