Rachel Whitaker, Ph.D.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Evolutionary change through viral symbiosis as in natural microbial populations.

Rachel Whitaker, Ph.D.

Research Description

Viruses are the next frontier of microbiology not only because they are often pathogens, but also because they are the infectious source of genome innovation. Our research explores how viruses that are integrated in their host’s genome confer new evolutionary traits to their hosts and change their eco-evolutionary interactions with other organisms. Our team studies how viral symbioses result in dynamics and eco-evolutionary feedbacks in highly structured, wild archaeal and viral populations from Yellowstone hot springs. We focus on terrestrial hot springs as an example of highly structured populations in which local adaptation and random processes will likely play an important role in shaping interaction dynamics.

Research Impact

Today the pace of environmental change is increasing, but we lack a full understanding of the evolutionary process to predict and shape biological responses especially in the dynamic and essential microbial ecosystems. Our goal is an integrated evolutionary synthesis that includes the role of viral symbiosis and infection genomics so that we can make evidence-based predictions and strategies to keep pace with environmental change.


related links

Science Symbiosis in Aquatic Systems University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology Back


  • B.A. Biology and Science in Society Program (SiSP), Wesleyan University, USA
  • Ph.D. Microbiology, University of California Berkeley, USA
  • Postdoctoral study, Environmental Genomics, University of California Berkeley, USA