This concentration is focused on the study of arthropods impacting humans, animals and structures. Termites, cockroaches, bed bugs, mosquitoes, ticks, and flies are among the myriad of pests that impact quality of life, transmit diseases and destroy our homes. Basic and applied research provide insights into our understanding of these important arthropods
Wood-feeding insects such as termites rely on complex and host-specific microbial communities in their gut, called gut microbiomes, that aid in the symbiotic digestion of lignocellulose. The IMPI program in the Mikaelyan lab is focused on understanding the functional basis of this important digestive symbiosis. Our research draws on a range of approaches, from microbial ecology, metagenomics, metatranscriptomics and the use of gnotobiotic models to understand how insect biology is influenced by their gut microbiomes, and how insects could be determining the host-specificity of these microbiomes.
Our research focuses on arthropod-microbe interactions. We apply both cultivation-dependent and cultivation-independent methods to identifying microbial species and the active semiochemicals they produce that mediate the oviposition responses to mosquitoes, sand flies and ants, a novel approach for insect pest control. Our study also involves investigating how microbiome imbalance and within-host evolution influences pathogen susceptibility, what role gut microbes play in protecting their host including ticks, chiggers, caterpillars, mosquitoes, flies and fire ant colonies.
My research program addresses connections between arthropod ecology and the risk of infectious disease. I focus on several areas of mosquito ecology that I find particularly important (and interesting!). These include physiological ecology (or how the environment affects how individual mosquitoes grow, utilize resources, and reproduce), behavioral ecology (or how the environment affects how individual mosquitoes make choices, or don’t), population ecology (or how the environment causes mosquito populations to grow or shrink), and landscape ecology (or how the environment determines the pattern of mosquito species and abundance in the landscape).
Urbanization continues to move people into more intimate associations with important arthropod pests, including cockroaches, bed bugs, mosquitoes, sand flies, ticks, fleas, ants, and termites. The mission of our lab is to understand the basic biology of insect pests that interact with and directly affect people in residential and other structural environments (e.g., schools, hospitals, farm buildings, military facilities) in urban and rural settings, to translate this knowledge to innovative interventions with emphasis on ecologically sound pest management, and to contribute science-based evidence to public policy debates. We are especially interested in the public health importance of household pests and their direct and indirect impacts on human health through the allergens they produce, pathogenic microbes they vector and antibiotic resistance genes they disseminate, and the large amounts of pesticides used to control them. Other research in our lab examines sensory-based approaches of pest management through the identification of semiochemicals that affect insect behavior. We are also interested in understanding the genetic basis of the rapid evolution of gustatory mutations in cockroaches that confer adaptive behavioral resistance to insecticide-baits.
Our research focuses on developing transgenic male-only strains of parasitic blow flies for genetic control of these pests. Strains of the New World screwworm and the Australian sheep blow fly have been made that produce 100% males when raised on diet that lacks tetracycline. In the presence of tetracycline, females are fully viable and fertile. The strains are being evaluated for a number of biological parameters important for mass production (e.g. egg hatch) and performance in the field (e.g. male competitiveness)
The application of Integrated Pest Management in schools, child care facilities and other sensitive environments. Efficacy of novel insecticides and application methods for the control of subterranean termites.
The Veterinary Entomology research and extension program is focused on animal health and well-being for livestock and poultry in both conventional and organic production systems, and the surrounding environment. Responsibilities include the development of integrated pest management programming to support regional and national initiatives to reduce pesticides in our foods and the environment, reduce pathogens in the food supply and on the farm, and provide a healthy environment for the welfare of humans and animals. Multidisciplinary alliances formed within and between departments and colleges enhances the scope and breadth of the effort. Knowledge and technologies developed through research- based collaborative associations directly improve animal production systems and quality of life within farm and non- farming communities.