Scholar, educator, award-winning book author, interdisciplinary innovator, and shaper of future scientists, Joshua S. Weitz wears many hats at Georgia Tech, but his influence reaches far beyond. For his contributions to the field of viral ecology, Joshua Weitz has been elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
Weitz’s research focuses on the interactions between viruses and their microbial hosts, that is, the viral infections of microbial life. Weitz is motivated by seemingly simple questions: What happens to a microbe when it is infected by a virus? Does the infected cell live, die, or change? How do infections of single cells translate into system-wide consequences?
These areas are “of utmost importance” because of the role microbes play in humans and across our planet, says Mark E. Hay, Regents Professor and Harry and Linda Teasley Chair in the School of Biological Sciences at Georgia Tech. “Yet understanding the role of viruses that infect microbes is at its infancy. Joshua has been identifying the big questions and providing deep insights into how viruses modulate human and environmental health.”
Weitz received his Ph.D. in Physics from MIT and continues to combine mathematical theory and data-driven models to understand complex living systems. His work has led to new quantitative principles underlying the abundances of environmental viruses, the networks of microbes that viruses can infect, and mechanisms by which viral infections change ecosystem functioning.
Recent work from the Weitz group has shed light on ways that phage – viruses that exclusively infect bacteria – can be used therapeutically. Phage therapy – the use of bacteria-killing viruses to treat bacterial infections – was proposed nearly a century ago, but the mechanisms underlying its efficacy remain unresolved. Earlier this year, Weitz and collaborators combined mathematical models and experiments with immunomodulated mice to show that phage do not act alone. In fact, the immune cells of the host act synergistically with phage to eradicate infections.
A productive researcher, Weitz has published nearly 100 peer-reviewed articles, including more than 80 articles since joining Georgia Tech in January 2007. He also wrote an award-winning monograph: Quantitative Viral Ecology: Dynamics of Viruses and Their Microbial Hosts. Published in December 2015 by Princeton University Press, it is “the book” on viral ecology, Hay says. The book was selected by the Royal Society of Biology as the winner of the 2016 Postgraduate Textbook Prize.
In education, Weitz has made an indelible mark by conceptualizing and implementing Georgia Tech’s Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Quantitative Biosciences (QBioS), which accepted its first group of Ph.D. students in the Fall 2016 semester. As Georgia Tech’s third interdisciplinary Ph.D. focusing on life sciences – after Bioengineering and Bioinformatics – QBioS continues a tradition of fostering innovative, interdisciplinary research, and education.
Weitz has mentored dozens of students and scientists. At Georgia Tech, he has served as primary supervisor for eight Ph.D. theses in biology, bioinformatics, and physics. Eight of Weitz’s former postdoctoral researchers have moved to tenure-track faculty positions in biology, mathematics, and engineering departments.
Weitz fosters new interfaces between the physical sciences, mathematics, computational sciences, and the life sciences through his leadership role in workshops, working groups, and international collaborations. He cochaired an international working group on ocean viral dynamics at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis from 2012 to 2014, chaired a 2015 rapid-response modeling workshop on Ebola virus disease held at Georgia Tech, and is currently a Simons Foundation Investigator as part of the Simons Collaboration on Ocean Processes and Ecology.
“He is one of our most obvious interdisciplinary innovators,” Hay says of Weitz. “With his creative ideas, breadth of interdisciplinary vision, and rigorous approach to science, he makes contributions beyond his years.”