Emily Wroblewski is a geneticist investigating the population and evolutionary immunogenetics of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) in African apes (chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas).
MHC molecules are critical to the immune response to infection and also influence other essential, but often competing, fitness-related functions such as reproduction and social behavior. Using fecal samples as a non-invasive source of DNA, Wroblewski conducts an extensive comparative immunogenetic study of over 40 populations of wild African apes.
Next generation sequencing and bioinformatic analysis of the MHC genomic region characterizes content both conserved and lost, gene flow, and admixture. By identifying the variation in molecules important to innate and adaptive immunity, like those of the MHC, she uses the variable occurrence of diseases, such as SIV and malaria, to determine whether there are signatures of selection characteristic of healthy and diseased populations. Using the data available from long-term study sites, Wroblewski also explores the fitness tradeoffs for these molecules between their roles in immunity and reproduction, and also characterize variation in behavior (mate choice, cooperation, aggression) according to immunogenetic similarity.
During her doctoral work at the University of Minnesota, Wroblewski investigated patterns of paternity and the influence of paternal relationships on chimpanzee social behavior in the population of Gombe National Park, Tanzania. Before joining WashU's anthropology department in fall 2017, she served as a postdoctoral fellow and research scientist at Stanford University.