Among the most devastating infectious diseases worldwide are insect-borne diseases that are spread by mosquitoes. One such mosquito vector, Aedes aeypti, is of particular concern because it spreads the viruses that cause diseases such as Dengue and Zika, which are increasing in incidence. Using molecular genetic approaches, our laboratory is developing transgenic forms of Aedes aeypti that are intended to suppress this insect vector. We are also identifying the receptors and channels that Aedes aegypti uses to find people.

We are focusing on the Aedes and Drosophila visual system to dissect the mechanisms visual transduction. We are especially interesting in dissecting mechanisms that Aedes use to detect people through vision.

We are defining the taste receptors and cells that explain how fruit flies and mosquitoes discriminate different types of chemicals in foods, and how they undergo plastic changes in their taste preferences in response to long-term exposure to different diets.

Our lab is dissecting the cellular and molecular mechanisms through Drosophila is able to discriminate very small differences in comfortable temperature range. We found that this behavior is mediated in part through a thermosensory signaling cascade that is initiated by rhodopsin and culminates with activation of the TRPA1 channel.

Rhodopsins are ancient and evolutionarily conserved light receptors. Based on >100 years of study, the dogma was that they function exclusively in light reception. Our recent and ongoing work in fruit flies, mosquitoes and the mouse challenges this tenet. We uncovered the first light-independent role for these evolutionarily conserved light sensors in fruit flies. Remarkably, opsins enable fruit flies to discriminate between tiny temperature differences within the comfortable range.

Flys in love

We characterizing the receptors and channels required for courtship and mating in Drosophila and Aedes. In Drosophila, courtship and mating depends on visual, auditory, olfactory and gustatory cues. However, much less is known about the senses and receptors required for courtship and mating in Aedes. We are decoding the cells, and receptors that promote courtship.

Plants and insects have complex relationship. While some insects are pollination vectors, many insects feed on plants and are therefore detrimental. Therefore, plants produce both volatile and non-volatile chemicals to ward away insect pests. We are identifying the receptors and ion channels that sense naturally occurring repellents and insecticides produced by plants.

Circadian rhythms are one of the most fundamental processes in nature. Organisms ranging from cyanobacteria to plants and animals exhibit physiological or behavioral changes that are set by the circadian cycle. The fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, senses day/night cycles in part through rhodopsin-dependent light reception in their eyes. However, another significant pathway for light entrainment is mediated in central pacemaker neurons. The Drosophila circadian clock is extremely light sensitive.