In the Short Lab, we study how insects interact with harmful and helpful microbes and the ecological and evolutionary forces shaping the insect immune system. As vector biologists, we are also interested in finding ways to use this information to improve our ability to prevent the spread of vector-borne diseases. We primarly study Aedes aegypti, the mosquito vector of dengue and Zika virus.
Major research questions:
1. What factors determine the composition and size of the mosquito gut microbiome?
The mosquito midgut microbiome varies between species, location, and even between individuals in the same population. It also varies across developmental stages and as a result of changes in diet. We are interested in better understanding the environmental, physiological, and genetic factors that shape bacterial populations in the mosquito gut. We are currently studying the impact of larval nutrition on adult microbiome formation. Our approach is multifacetd, combining high throughput methods (e.g. bacterial 16S high-throughput sequencing, transcriptomics) and targeted molecular techniques (e.g. RNAi and qPCR) to quantitatively assess organism and population-level phenotypes.
2. How does the microbiome impact mosquito capacity to transmit pathogens?
The bacteria associated with mosquitoes can have important implications for their susceptibility to infection by pathogens like dengue virus. We are interested in taking this further, and investigating how the microbiome impacts life history traits critical for disease transmission. We study this at the level of individual organisms as well as populations, asking how the microbiome impacts the life history of a single mosquito and the extent to which the microbiome could influence variation in pathogen transmission.