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Dengue Virus and Wolbachia

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are the primary vector for dengue virus, yellow fever virus, Zika virus, and many other human pathogens. This mosquito preferentially breeds in urban areas, and can be difficult to control due to its breeding in small containers near human habitation. Further, globalization has led to the spread of this mosquito, and its sister species Ae. albopictus into a wide variety of tropical and sub-tropical regions around the world, bringing these diseases with them. One proposed method to control these diseases is by releasing mosquitoes infected with the bacterium Wolbachia, either to suppress the mosquito population, or replace it with mosquitoes less likely to spread the viruses.

Ae. aegypti is not naturally infected with Wolbachia, but my Master's advisor, Dr. Zhiyong Xi, was able to introduce the bacteria into this mosquito as part of his PhD thesis work. Following my undergraduate education, I joined Dr. Xi's laboratory at Michigan State University to conduct research on the three-way interactions between Wolbachia, dengue virus and their mutual host, Ae. aegypti while pursuing my master's degree. Aside from learning a large variety of general biological laboratory techniques, this experience gave me the knowledge I would need in the future to perform high quality work on multiple aspects of mosquito biology. I performed everything from whole-organism measurements of mosquito fitness down to molecular characterization of mosquito immune pathways via RNA interference with the group, and made many observations about the ways these three organisms interacted. This included the effects of co-infection on mosquito fitness, the effects of the mosquito immune system on Wolbachia infection, and more.

This work greatly prepared me for the work I pursed with Dr. George Dimopoulos at Johns Hopkins, as well as work I did with Dr. Grant Hughes and Dr. Jason Rasgon during one of my laboratory rotations before joining Dr. Dimopoulos' laboratory.