This summer the NSF awarded a 3-year $650,000 grant to FIU investigator Laura Serbus, an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and member of the Biomolecular Sciences Institute. The Serbus lab is researching Wolbachia, a type of bacteria that infect approximately half of all known insect species. Recent work by others has demonstrated that mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia are resistant to several viruses, including Dengue Fever and Zika. In general, mosquitoes carrying the highest amounts of Wolbachia also carry the lowest levels of virus. Thus, understanding how Wolbachia infection levels are controlled will maximize use of Wolbachia as a practical tool for disease prevention. However, little is currently known about how Wolbachia density in insects is controlled. One part of Dr. Serbus' project will analyze Wolbachia infection in the well-characterized fruit fly model system. Careful quantification and mathematical modeling will be used to disentangle the complexities of tissue colonization by Wolbachia. This will make it possible to understand how to Wolbachia levels are regulated, and thus identify strategies for enhancing protective Wolbachia infections in insects.
The Serbus Lab is pictured above.