Wolbachia Biology

Our paratransgenic studies where we modify tsetse’s parasite transmission ability via expressing resistance genes in the commensal symbiont Sodalis requires gene-drive methods. The parasitic bacterium Wolbachia in many insects has been associated with cytoplasmic incompatability (CI) phenomenon that confers a reproductive advantage to females harboring Wolbachia. Although natural tsetse populations also harbor Wolbachia, the functional biology of these infections has been difficult to decipher. This is due to the unique nature of viviparous reproduction in tsetse, which prevents establishment of Wolbachia free-lines easily. Tsetse reproduction is influenced by the mutualistic endosymbiont Wigglesworthia and elimination of Wigglesworthia through antibiotic administration results in sterility. In the laboratory, we have been developing methods to cure Wolbachia to successfully demonstrate its functional role in tsetse’s biology. We also have a multi-disciplinary field project based out of Uganda that studies the distribution and infection dynamics of Wolbachia infections in Glossina fuscipes populations across Uganda in an effort to understand host population interactions and to develop vector control methods.