Major themes of my research program include:
- Genetics of host specialization in gut microbes
- How host and environmental factors shape gut microbial communities
- Impacts of gut microbes on host physiology
Our current system of focus is the gut microbiota of mosquitoes, which are insects of interest because several species transmit disease-causing organisms to humans. I have been working on this system for the last eight years. As a Ph.D. student, I developed methods for generating axenic (i.e. microbe-free) mosquito larvae and adults that can be selectively recolonized with known microbial species and assemblages in order to study their function. Using this system, I showed that mosquitoes require living microbes in their gut in order to develop into adults. Follow-up work using E. coli as a model bacterium identified bacterial genes involved in aerobic respiration that are essential for mosquito development. More specifically, my results showed that microbe-mediated gut hypoxia results in stabilization of hypoxia-inducible transcription factors in the mosquito host that regulate processes with roles in larval growth and molting. In my lab at UW-Madison, we plan to follow up on this work by characterizing other host processes that may be regulated by hypoxia in larvae and adults (e.g. those with functions in immunity and reproduction).
We are also interested in using axenic and gnotobiotic mosquitoes to characterize host and environmental factors that shape community assembly in the mosquito gut, the impacts of metamorphosis on the stability of mosquito gut microbial communities, and the mechanisms underlying adaptation of specific bacteria to the mosquito gut environment. If any of the above interests you, please reach out! We will be actively building the lab over the next few years.
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