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Research

Insects vector some of the most significant human pathogens including the causative agents of malaria, yellow fever, Dengue fever, Zika, Chagas’ disease, and many others. We are interested in studying the basic biology of vector insects to contribute to a foundation of knowledge that can inform the development of novel control strategies.

The lab employs tools such as comparative genomics in an evolutionary framework to develop hypotheses related to insect physiology. We then experimentally test these hypotheses using molecular biology, -omics, and microbiology.

We are currently working on the following projects

Identifying peptides and their receptors that regulate mosquito reproduction

Small peptide hormones regulate many aspects of insect physiology, development, and reproduction. These molecules transduce signals across membranes through receptor proteins, generally in a lock-and-key fashion. Genomic analysis indicates that there are many receptors whose peptide ligand is unknown. By studying the role of these orphan receptors in mosquito biology, we hope to uncover previously unknown regulators of mosquito reproduction.

 

Characterizing the physiology of the larval mosquito microbiome

Larval mosquitoes require microbes for successful development. While this relationship is obligate from the perspective of the mosquito, many bacteria are capable of rescuing mosquito development. We are interested in how the mosquito senses and responds to these microbes, and how the microbes contribute to their hosts’ metabolism and nutrition.

 

Understanding host-microbe interactions in kissing bugs

Kissing bugs (Triatominae) are the natural vectors of Trypanosoma cruzi, the causative agent of Chagas’ disease. Like other obligate blood-feeding arthropods, triatomines fail to get sufficient B vitamins from their diet and rely on symbiotic bacteria to provide these essential nutrients. However, these symbionts are extracellular are not transovarially transmitted to the next generation. Kissing bugs harbor a diversity of symbionts that do not display strict co-phylogeny with their hosts. Several of these symbionts have been successfully cultured in vitro and are amenable to genetic manipulation. We are leveraging this to study factors that promote host-symbiont interactions in Rhodnius prolixus and the symbiont Rhodococcus rhodnii.