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Professor Dominic Johnson brings an evolutionary perspective to understanding and fighting pandemics more effectively

'A Multidisciplinary Approach to Pandemics: Covid-19 and Beyond' Edited by Philippe Bourbeau, Jean-Michel Marcoux and Brooke A. Ackerly / Published by Oxford University Press

Pandemics such as COVID-19 can be fought more effectively by exploring the behaviour of viruses and their hosts through an evolutionary lens, according to new research from Alastair Buchan Chair of International Relations Professor Dominic Johnson.

Professor Johnson’s findings appear as a chapter – What Viruses Want? Evolutionary Insights for the COVID-19 Pandemic and Lessons for the Next One – in the book A Multidisciplinary Approach to Pandemics: Covid-19 and Beyond, published by Oxford University Press.

In the chapter, Dominic identifies the greatest challenge being the rapid evolution of the virus and how it changed over time, in a race of virus adaptations against host defences and vaccinations.

He also argues that many of our behavioural reactions were predictable, in light of the evolutionary legacy of human dispositions and relationships with disease.

His writing on COVID-19 arose out of his research work on the Oxford Martin Programme on Natural Governance – an interdisciplinary project exploring how insights from biology and evolution can help us to understand and address global challenges.

Overall, the book A Multidisciplinary Approach to Pandemics: Covid-19 and Beyond aims to deliver a fresh, broad-ranging perspective on the pandemic for political scientists. It also offer insights on the challenges government had in dealing with a major international crisis, demonstrating the need for science and other disciplines to address the problem collaboratively.

Professor Johnson said: “The book is innovative in drawing attention to the need for multidisciplinary approaches to solving big global challenges of the 21st century.

“My chapter encourages us to look at viruses from a ‘gene's eye perspective’ to think about what the virus is ‘trying’ to do, the strategies and adaptations that help it do so, and how hosts react.”

My chapter encourages us to look at viruses from a ‘gene's eye perspective’ to think about what the virus is ‘trying’ to do, the strategies and adaptations that help it do so, and how hosts react.
Professor Dominic Johnson