Serap Aksoy PhD

Professor of Epidemiology (Microbial Diseases)

Research Interests

African trypanosomes; Bacterial symbionts of tsetse flies


Research Summary

We study the molecular basis of biological complexity that determine host-microbe interactions, with a focus on tsetse flies, insect vectors of the protozoan parasite African trypanosomes. We investigate the molecular aspects of tsetse immunity during parasite transmission with the eventual goal of manipulating these responses to block disease transmission. Tsetse also harbors three maternally transmitted bacterial symbionts, which influence its nutritional and reproductive biology. We characterize the biology of each symbiont using biochemical, genetic, cellular and molecular techniques to understand the evolution and functional significance of each in the context of the dynamic host environment. We developed a paratransgenic approach where we exploit the commensal gut flora to express in the midgut mileu trypanocidal products that can block parasite development. The replacement of natural tsetse populations with the engineered parasite refractory flies can provide a novel approach for control of this devastating vector-borne disease.

Extensive Research Description

Dr. Aksoy's research aims to understand the biology of host-pathogen interactions; in particular in tsetse flies, which transmit African trypanosomes and harbor multiple symbiotic microbes. Basic studies focus on the immune aspects of trypanosome transmission in tsetse, while the applied studies aim to harness this information to develop biologically sound and novel disease control strategies to interrupt parasite development in the tsetse vector. A second area of research focuses on the molecular and evolutionary basis of symbiosis. The biology of each tsetse symbiont is characterized using biochemical, genomic, genetic, cellular and molecular techniques to understand their functional significance in the context of host ecology.


Selected Publications

  • Toh H, et al. (2006) Massive genome erosion and functional adaptations provide insights into the symbiotic lifestyle of Sodalis glossinidius in the tsetse host. Genome research 16(2):149-156.
  • Weiss BL, Wu Y, Schwank JJ, Tolwinski NS, & Aksoy S (2008) An insect symbiosis is influenced by bacterium-specific polymorphisms in outer-membrane protein A. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 105(39):15088-15093.
  • Wang J, Wu Y, Yang G, & Aksoy S (2009) Interactions between mutualist Wigglesworthia and tsetse peptidoglycan recognition protein (PGRP-LB) influence trypanosome transmission. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 106(29):12133-12138
  • Weiss BL, Wang J, & Aksoy S (2011) Tsetse immune system maturation requires the presence of obligate symbionts in larvae. PLoS biology 9(5):e1000619.
  • Alam U., Medlock J, Brelsfoard C, Pais R, Lohs C, Balmand S, Carnogursky J, Heddi A, Takac P, Galvani A, Aksoy S. Wolbachia symbiont infections induce strong cytoplasmic incompatibility in the tsetse fly Glossina morsitans. PLoS Pathog 2011; 7(12): e1002415
  • Weiss BL, Maltz M, & Aksoy S (2012) Obligate symbionts activate immune system development in the tsetse fly. Journal of immunology 188(7):3395-3403.
  • Wang J & Aksoy S (2012) PGRP-LB is a maternally transmitted immune milk protein that influences symbiosis and parasitism in tsetse's offspring. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 109(26):10552-10557).
  • Rio, RV Symula RE, Wang J, Lohs C, Wu YN, Snyder AK, Bjornson RD, Oshima K, Biehl BS, Perna NT, Hattori M, Aksoy S. (2012) Insight into the transmission biology and species-specific functional capabilities of tsetse (Diptera: Glossinidae) obligate symbiont Wigglesworthia. MBio. 2012 Feb 14;3(1). pii: e00240-11

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