Theme I: Evolutionary and ecological drivers of parasites & vector-borne pathogen diversification.

Projects related to this theme explore processes of microbial interactions in blood-feeding arthropod vectors and vertebrate hosts. We are particularly interested in the evolution and ecology of microbes (symbionts and pathogens) that are able to sustain populations in phylogenetically and ecologically diverse eukaryotes (e.g., Bartonella, Wolbachia, etc). Current projects focus on Diptera (bat flies), and Siphonaptera (fleas), but are not limited to these organismal groups. Ultimately, results from this research contribute to a deeper understanding of how microbes (e.g. pathogens) are transmitted and sustained in the eukaryotic ecosystem. Therefore projects related to this are suitable for students interested in careers in epidemiology, microbiology, medical parasitology and entomology, disease and parasite evolution, or similar.

Skills: Students working on Theme I projects will acquire skills in all, or some aspects of the following disciplines: microbial genomics, epidemiological modeling, population genetics, field biology, taxonomy and systematics, bioinformatics, phylogenetics. Students working on these projects can expect to be exposed to phylogenetic tools and approaches, programming in R and Python, microbial genome annotation and analysis, including horizontal gene transfer prediction, transcriptome analysis, field survey techniques, standard wet lab techniques (bacterial culturing, PCR, RNAprep, cloning, etc), and FISH techniques.

Theme II: Evolution of eye-reduction 

One of the most consistent morphological features of parasitic arthropods (ectoparasites) is the rudimentary manifestation of their visual system. We are interested in studying the ecological and evolutionary drivers of this process, in comparison to a parallel biological system - cave adaptation. This project involves bats, and their relationship with dipteran parasites (bat flies). To further explore this topic, projects related to this theme use behavioral, genomic, and morphological approaches. Therefore, projects related to this topic are suitable for students interested in parasite behavior, neuroanatomy, evolution of visual systems, invertebrate behavior, or similar.

Skills: Students working on Theme II projects can expect to be exposed to phylogenetic tools and approaches, transcriptome and genome analyses, field collection techniques, dipteran taxonomy and systematics, standard wet-lab techniques (PCR, RNAprep, cloning, etc), SEM, TEM and confocal microscopy techniques, immuno-histochemistry techniques, standard histology, collection management, behavioral experiment design, and statistical analyses.