My research interest broadly encompasses all aspects of insect physiology. My dissertation work focused on how physiological mechanisms such as nutritionally sensitive physiological systems in insects interact with sexually dimorphic gene expression to shape a condition-dependent, plastic trait. For my dissertation I investigated how insect endocrine systems, such as the insulin signaling and juvenile hormone signaling pathways, contributed to condition-dependent weapon growth. In addition, I also investigated how nutritional state and sex interact to drive differential gene expression using RNA-seq. This work focused on the sexually selected head horns in the Asian Rhinoceros beetle Trypoxylus dichotomus as well as the massive mandibles in the Golden Stag beetle Cyclommatus metallifer, and explored the underlying physiological mechanisms behind the evolution of these impressive weapons.
Since joining the PERT program here at the University of Arizona, I’ve transitioned my love of insect physiology away from questions about morphological evolution and into understanding how insect physiology can impact human life. Specifically, my PERT research focuses on the interactions between mosquito physiology and their ability to vector diseases. I’m currently investigating how physiological factors such as insulin signaling affect mosquito longevity, reproductive ability, and how dysregulation of this pathway can affect the ability of mosquitoes to transmit malaria. In addition, I’m also working on a project to determine how temperature affects the incubation period of the Zika virus in Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, in order to help create predictive models for disease transmission based on understanding insect physiology. Ultimately this research will also be used to identify physiological factors in mosquitoes that can be utilized to help reduce the spread of this emerging pandemic disease.