Emily Acheson

Research Topic

How modelling Cryptococcus gattii fungus through space and time in the Pacific Northwest may reveal why infectious diseases emerge

Research Description

Why do infectious diseases emerge where they do? Climate change and land use change are considered the two major factors, with increasing debate around which factor is more important. In Canada, a fungus called Cryptococcus gattii emerged on Vancouver Island, British Columbia in 1999 for unknown reasons. Previously only found in Africa, Asia, and Australia, C. gattii has spread to mainland Vancouver and parts of the Pacific Northwest of the United States. C. gattii causes Cryptococcosis in humans and animals, a potentially fatal respiratory and neurological disease that occurs upon inhalation of C. gattii’s spores. The research project proposed here aims to investigate the environmental factors behind C. gattii’s 1999 emergence. Did climate change (e.g. temperature, precipitation) or land use change (e.g. deforestation) play a greater role? Where is C. gattii headed?

For Canada, this research can have a major impact on how control programs predict areas most at risk for C. gattii infection. For research in the natural sciences, this project may finally resolve the debate of climate versus land use changes and the roles they play on infectious diseases. For countries worldwide, C. gattii acts as the perfect model species to investigate why infectious diseases emerge where they do and how to predict their future spread.

Emily Acheson, 2016 UBC Killam Doctoral Award Recipient

What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?

The trees. I've never been in any city that has so many gorgeous trees growing right in the city centre. The cherry blossoms also offer a wonderful welcome to spring.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

I really wanted to work with Dr. Klinkenberg, who is a professor at UBC. UBC is also located in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, so it felt like a win-win scenario to attend this campus.


Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I fell in love with research after doing my honours thesis and found myself asking more and more questions about diseases and their links with the environment. A graduate degree allows me the opportunity to study what I enjoy learning about, to work with a supervisor who can guide my work, and to gain experience teaching undergraduate students about my field.