Evolutionary and ecological genetics of Wolbachia and their Drosophila hosts
We are a collaborative team of researchers studying Drosophila-Wolbachia interactions, physiological adaptation, and speciation. Many of our current projects combine approaches from genomics, genetics, cell biology, and population biology to better understand Wolbachia effects on host physiology and fitness that underlie Wolbachia spread. This knowledge is crucial to improve the efficacy of Wolbachia from Drosophila as a biocontrol of vector-borne disease (particularly dengue and now Zika). Our field work takes us from local orchards to sites overseas where we sample Wolbachia-infected flies from Africa, Asia, Australia and South America. We are fortunate to conduct our lab research at the University of Montana in beautiful Missoula, Montana.
Local adaptation and reproductive isolation
Our projects also evaluate local adaptation within and the evolution of reproductive isolation between host species. In the past this research has involved assessing the cell basis of temperature adaptation. More recently, we've been working on describing a new D. yakuba-D. teissieri hybrid zone with Daniel Matute's group. Because Wolbachia are maternally transmitted endosymbionts, hybridization and introgression can lead to between species Wolbachia spread. In this way (and others), or work on local adaptation and reproductive isolation overlaps nicely with our work focused on within and between host Wolbachia spread.
We are currently funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to determine the effects of Wolbachia on host physiology and fitness that enable Wolbachia spread. We are grateful for this funding and for past funding from the NIH, the National Science Foundation, and several other agencies.