Benjamin Rice

I am a PhD candidate in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. My research interests center on the ecology and evolutionary genetics of the Plasmodium parasites that cause malaria. One primary motivation is the observation that global hotspots of diseases, including malaria, often co-locate with hotspots of poverty, malnutrition and environmental degradation. As a result, malaria burdens are often greatest in those communities that are most vulnerable and most difficult to reach. New and improved methods for tracking disease dynamics need to be paired with new efforts to access and study remote communities. To that end, I have been delighted to work with Chris Golden and his team in Madagascar as part of several large field studies since 2014.
My initial research experience was largely lab-based molecular work but I had the privilege of helping lead of a cross-sectional study of 24 communities across four regions in Madagascar (enrolling approximately 6,000 subjects) to study the intersection of environmental change, nutritional status, and disease emergence in 2016-2017. I am currently working on analyzing the samples collected with the aim being to use patterns of variation among malaria parasite genomes to better understand transmission dynamics within communities in Madagascar.
I motivated to use malaria in Madagascar as a model to: (i) apply new advances in genetic analysis of pathogens in Madagascar, (ii) further expand the toolkit of genetic and epidemiological analyses available so that we can better identify and understand the ecological drivers of disease transmission, (iii) enrich data streams so as to more rapidly monitor and improve disease control measures, and (iv) dramatically increase our awareness of the causes and consequences of poor health outcomes in the remote communities of Madagascar – communities that remain understudied or unstudied despite their crucial role to conserving the country’s tremendous biodiversity.
I am originally from Denver, Colorado, where my parents instilled appreciation of the natural wonders of the world as an important habit from an early age. Prior to joining Chris’s group at Harvard, I studied microbiology and global health at Arizona State University and upon graduating in 2012 did a post-baccalaureate research fellowship with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) studying the genetics of the parasites that cause malaria.