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Anopheles gambiae  infected with Metarhizium pingshaense expressing green fluorescent protein.

Anopheles gambiae infected with Metarhizium pingshaense expressing green fluorescent protein.

Research

Vector biology

Mosquitoes are my vector of choice: I have worked on mosquitoes that transmit human pathogens at home and abroad for nearly a decade. In this time, I have collected and reared a variety of medically-relevant mosquito species, studied their behavior and assayed their susceptibility to fungal pathogens in semi-field and lab conditions. In laboratory studies, I have used RNAseq to identify immune responses in malaria mosquitoes that are specific to Metarhizium pingshaense, and used RNAi to knock-down these genes to see if they impact fungal infection. I have also conducted pioneering studies on the efficacy of transgenic insect killing fungi that deliver insect-specific neurotoxins into mosquito blood to kill them quickly and at a lower spore dose. These studies were conducted in collaboration with Drs. Abdoulaye Diabate and Etienne Bilgo at the Centre Muraz/IRSS in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso. This technology has been shown to prevent blood-feeding in infected mosquitoes before they die, it works synergistically with widely-applied chemical insecticides, and it could be applied to locally isolated insect-killing fungi, which may be better able to cope with local environmental conditions. The development of this technology as part of an integrated vector management program will continue to be a major research interest of mine.

Metarhizium robertsii  germling producing auxin stained with a red immunofluorescent stain.

Metarhizium robertsii germling producing auxin stained with a red immunofluorescent stain.

Mycology

My realm of the fungal kingdom is primarily the insect pathogens. I have worked to extensively characterize the pathogenicity and evolution of fungi in the genus Metarhizium. In support of my work using genetically modified Metarhizium pingshaense to kill malaria mosquitoes, I have written several reviews on the modification of entomopathogenic fungi and edited a review volume on the state of research into these fungi. To understand their evolution and unravel the underpinnings of host-specificity, I have carried out multiple comparative genomics projects on a variety of isolates. These projects will ultimately answer how Metarhizium strains evolved their unique properties both across species and within species. Of particular interest to me is how strains of the same species display different phenotypes on plant roots. Though Metarhizium species are principally considered as insect pathogens, they have retained their ancestral ability to form a symbiotic relationship with plant roots. I have used microarrays to look for alterations in the root microfauna over time in turf and winter wheat treated with Metarhizium robertsii. I have further shown that the production of the plant hormone auxin by Metarhizium robertsii is an important part of this symbiosis.

Science Communication and Policy

Communicating research findings beyond publication and into the minds of the general public and policymakers is a critical, and too often ignored, part of the scientific process. Science and policy are indelibly intertwined with each supporting the other. Scientists can help policymakers root policies in the best available evidence, and policymakers can put forward regulations and funding that allow scientists to push the limits of what we know about the world around us. To meet this responsibility, I have served on the Science Policy Committee of the Entomological Society of America, and have contributed to infographics and fact sheets on gene drive technologies, modern mosquito management, and the safety of Bacillus thuringiensis cry toxins. I have also gained science communication training and experience advocating for science with lawmakers as an AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award recipient in 2019. The international scope of my work and my focus on biotechnology has allowed me to engage with stakeholders at all levels about transgenic approaches to mosquito control. These experiences will continue to inform my advocacy for evidenced-based policies, informed regulation of emerging technologies and increased policy and communication training for scientists.

Selected Awards

  • Board of Visitors Outstanding Graduate Student Award (2019)

  • American Institute of Biological Sciences Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award (2019)

  • Student Presentation Award at European Congress of Entomology (2018)

  • Cosmos Scholars Grant “Floral delivery of transgenic malaria mosquito killing fungi” (2018)

  • Bioscience Day Bioengineering Section Poster Award Winner (2017)

  • Society for Invertebrate Pathology Best Student Oral Presentation – First Prize (2017)

  • Society for Invertebrate Pathology Inaugural Video Contest – First Prize (2017)

  • AAAS Annual Meeting Joshua E. Neimark Memorial Travel Award (2017)

  • Entomology Society of America Science Policy Fellows Program (2016 Finalist)

  • Fungal Biology and Biotechnology Poster Award at European Conference on Fungal Genetics (2016)

  • First Place Student Speaking Competition Entomological Society of America Annual Meeting (2015)

  • Society for Invertebrate Pathology Division of Fungi Annual Meeting Travel Award (2015)

  • Department of Entomology Merit Fellowship (2015)

  • National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Honorable Mention (2014)

  • Allen L. Steinhauer Award for Excellence In Teaching (2013)

  • Society for Invertebrate Pathology Best Student Presentation Award – Second Prize (2013)

Publications

I am happy to provide a pdf copy of any of my publications for any reason.

Primary literature

Reviews

Review volume

Popular articles