Exploring Effects of Abiotic and Biotic Environmental Factors in the Human Malaria System

Mosquitoes are the deadliest organism in the world, taking out approximately 725,000 people annually due to the infectious organisms they transmit to humans. The principle pathogen that contributes the most human mortality is the human malaria parasite. The transmission of malaria parasites is linked inextricably to the biology of the mosquito vector and occurs in environments where mosquitoes and parasites are exposed to a suite of biotic and abiotic factors that vary considerably over time and space. In order to better understand the net outcome of the mosquito-parasite interaction in the field, and better predict the likely performance of mosquito control tools, it is necessary to begin to consider environmental context. For example, it could be that environmental factors play a small role, simply adding ‘noise’ to the system. Alternatively, environmental factors might massively shape the outcome of vector-parasite interactions and dominate the effectiveness of novel control tools. We are interested in an REU student that is willing to combine both empirical work in the lab with computational approaches to assess the relative influence of key environmental factors (e.g. temperature, relative humidity, mosquito microbiota) on mosquito life history traits and parasite traits relevant for predicting transmission. Example projects that could be developed include the effect of microbiota and relative humidity on mosquito life history traits and transmission or the role of transgenerational imprinting of environmental cues on these traits. This work will occur in the Indian malaria mosquito (Anopheles stephensi) and human malaria (Plasmodium falciparum) system. This student will be mentored by Drs. Ash Pathak (Infectious Diseases) and Courtney Murdock (Infectious Diseases & Odum School of Ecology).

Host Laboratory: Courtney Murdock, mentored by Ash Pathak
Type of Project: Combination of Empirical/Laboratory-based and Quantitative/Computer-based