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'