Investigating vector physiology
Investigating vector physiology: hormones and microbes
Understanding the basic biology of arthropod vectors of human diseases is critical to developing new control strategies.
The major issues our lab investigates are 1) how do hormones regulate insect reproduction and 2) how to microbes interact with insect hosts to facilitate host development. Insects vector some of the most important diseases of humans (Malaria, Dengue fever, Chagas' disease) as well as an ever expanding list of emerging pathogens (Zika, Chikungunya). These diseases impact tens of millions of people world-wide. By discovering novel regulators of insect reproduction in vector mosquito species, we can help to identify potential avenues for control of these insects and reduce disease transmission.
We are currently developing tools to investigate the role of bacterial symbionts in a major vector of Chagas' disease, Rhodnius prolixus. We have developed a gene knock-out library of the bacteria to test what genes in the bacteria are essential for R. prolixus development. We are simultaneously examining how the presence of bacteria alters gut development through examining gene expression in guts of R. prolixus with and without their bacterial symbionts. We are also examining the role of peptide hormones in mosquito reproduction. We have found a hormone receptor that, when silenced, reduces female mosquito fecundity. We are currently investigating what hormone binds to this receptor and its mechanism of action.
During the last year I have published 1 peer-reviewed primary research study. I have also advised two graduate students and two undergraduate students in my lab, as well as a postdoctoral scientist. I have served on two graduate student committees. I have presented our work as an invited seminar speaker and as an invited speaker at an international conference (Entomological Society of America/Entomological Society of Canada Joint Annual Meeting).
Health & Nutrition