Our main research interest is innate immune recognition and elimination of pathogens. Our work focuses on the interaction between mosquitoes and the animal and human pathogens they transmit. As the most species-rich group of animals on the planet occupying a vast array of ecological niches, insects are a fantastic example of the potency of innate defenses.
PoveLab in the news:
★ See us on Xploration Awesome Planet "Insects" (Season 3 Episode 10)
★ View UPenn Spotlight on Our Work
Rather than passive or willing carriers of pathogenic organism, mosquitoes are actually amazing pathogen killers. Taking mosquito interactions with malaria parasites as an example, the vast majority of the parasites ingested when a mosquito bites a malarious person are attacked and eliminated before they can mount an infection in the mosquito. It is the few parasites that survive (even one is sufficient), that are ultimately responsible for disease transmission. Similar interactions occur between mosquitoes and the other pathogens they transmit, like canine heartworm (Dirofilaria) and arboviruses (Zika, Dengue, Yellow Fever, West Nile, and Chikungunya).
Arthropod vectors such as mosquitoes, sand flies and ticks are responsible for transmission of a large number of animal and human diseases worldwide. Studying these organisms may reveal general insights about innate immune defense mechanisms as well as provide novel avenues for controlling the terrible diseases they spread.
Some of the questions we are addressing:
- What is the basis of pathogen recognition by the mosquito innate immune system and how do some pathogens manage to escape?
- What is the biochemical mechanism leading from innate recognition to pathogen killing?
- How is mosquito complement regulated?
- How does steroid hormone signaling regulate mosquito immunity?