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Trypanosome Biology in Tsetse

Tsetse flies are associated with a broad range of microbes, including protozoan African trypanosomes, bacterial symbionts and viral pathogens. Our lab uses this unique host-microbe system to understand physiological mechanisms that mediate homeostasis of microbial partnerships. We study the molecular determinants that regulate parasite differentiation/ maturation, infection establishment and transmission processes during the fly component of their life cycle. These determinants include trypanosome-derived molecules that facilitate their passage through the fly, as well as tsetse-derived immune barriers that prevent parasites from completing their transmission through the fly. The eventual goal of this research is to develop novel disease and vector control strategies that are based on manipulation of these processes.

We also study the reciprocal functional associations between tsetse and its bacterial microbiota. Tsetse harbors three indigenous bacterial symbionts: obligate Wigglesworthia, facultative Sodalis and parasitic Wolbachia, that are intimately associated with their host's physiological well-being. This aspect of our research focuses on learning more about the evolutionary adaptations that permit host tolerance of bacterial endosymbionts, how symbiotic bacteria impact host physiology, with specific emphasis on nutritional supplementation and host immune system development and function, and how tsetse’s bacterial symbionts can be harnessed to reduce disease transmission through the fly. In our field studies, we investigate the composition of environmentally acquired bacterial communities that are found in the gut of field-captured tsetse. Collectively, our laboratory and field based investigations aim to identify genetic and environmental factors related to vector competency of different tsetse species and genetically distinct tsetse fly populations. We apply our findings to mathematical models to better predict risk of parasite transmission and disease control.