Skip to content

Colleen B. Jonsson

Beaman Distinguished Professor



Evolutionary Mechanisms of RNA Virus Host-switching. Greater than half of all human infectious diseases begin through the cross-species transmission of RNA viruses from wildlife to humans. Hantaviruses provide an exceptional model system for the study of RNA virus spillover as they constitute a significant source of outbreaks, zoonotic infections and human disease. Specifically, in collaboration with Dr. Robert Owen, our laboratory is focused on defining the genetic determinants and mechanisms which facilitate spread of hantavirus within its rodent reservoir in nature and its adaptation in vitro to nonreservoir rodents.

Our study site lies in a protected fragment of the Atlantic Forest, the Mbaracayú Forest Biosphere Reserve within the Department of Canindeyú, Paraguay. The Atlantic Forest formerly covered large portions of southern Brazil, northeastern Argentina, and eastern Paraguay. It was once one of the largest forested ecosystems in the New World. Now, it is the most rapidly disappearing and increasingly fragmented ecosystem in the Neotropics, covering less than 10% of its former area. Fundación Moises Bertoni, a nongovernmental organization, administers the Reserve, which is one of the largest protected fragments of the Upper Paraná Atlantic Forest.

Wildlife studies can provide important insights to form a complete understanding of RNA viral host interactions; especially those that directly test the impact of ecological pressures on viral spread during contact and the first adaptive steps of the virus and spillover into sympatric species. The study of the emergence and adaption of hantaviruses can provide critical data for: (1) models for prediction of RNA viral emergence and mitigation; (2) identification of viral and host targets for therapeutic intervention; and (3) a basic understanding of the selective pressures that modulate viral-host interactions and viral genetic variation.

See Also: National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis


  • B.A., 1983, University of Missouri, St. Louis
  • Ph.D., 1990, Purdue University
  • Postdoctoral Fellowship, 1993, University of Medicine and Dentistry



Contact Information

The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System and partner in the Tennessee Transfer Pathway.