Professor Elizabeth McGraw is an awesome speaker, is super fun and has come all the way from Penn State University to present to us here in Zoology!
The McGraw Lab are interested in the use of the insect endosymbiont, Wolbachia for biocontrol and the basis of its interaction with insects. Wolbachia is an obligate intracellular bacterium that is naturally present in a wide range of insect species, including Drosophila species.
Broadly, the Lab are interested in how the bacterium affects host biology and how insect invests in a response to the symbiont. In many insects, Wolbachia has been shown to reduce the ability of other co-infecting pathogens from replicating including viruses, bacteria and parasites. In the artificially, but stably infected Aedes aegypti, they are interested in understanding the mechanism of how Wolbachia reduces dengue replication. The team have made progress in identifying contributing factors to pathogen blocking that include insect immunity and competition for cholesterol, both of which appear to correlate with Wolbachia densities.
The McGraw team are currently taking broader genomics and quantitative genetic approaches to identify the entire suite of host and Wolbachia-based factors that contribute to pathogen blocking in both Drosophila and Aedes.