1. Genetic and epigenetic regulation of thermal tolerance. Temperature variation is one of the greatest challenges faced by insects and other arthropods. In work funded by NSF in collaboration with researchers from the University of Vermont, Providence College, and Salve Regina University, we are investigating the genetic and epigenetic processes that contribute to thermal plasticity in Drosophila melanogaster. See www.thermofly.org/ for more details. Side projects include identifying the mechanisms of rapid cold hardening and characterizing sublethal consequences of thermal stress in insects.
2. Risk assessment of genetically modified insects used for Sterile Insect Technique. In work funded by the USDA NIFA Biotechnology Risk Assessment Grants Program, we are investigating the likelihood that conditionally lethal transgenes developed for Sterile Insect Technique will fail under field conditions. Specifically, we are testing the extent to which genetic background, environmental variability, and evolutionary forces impact the effectiveness of conditionally lethal transgenes.
3. Overwintering biology of economically important insects. Detailed information on the overwintering biology of pest and beneficial insects can be used to predict species distributions and design new pest control strategies. Current projects related to these efforts include transcriptional regulation of diapause in corn rootworms, molecular mechanisms of cold tolerance in spotted wing drosophila, and physiological and biochemical adaptations of overwintering wolf spiders.
4. Comparative physiology and genomics of Antarctic and sub-Antarctic midges. In a project recently funded by National Science Foundation, we will be investigating the physiological and genomic mechanisms that allow insects to survive the harsh conditions of Antarctica. From this work we hope to gain a comprehensive understanding of the key adaptations required to survive on Earth’s harshest continent. This multinational collaboration includes scientists from the US (University of Kentucky and Ohio State University), UK (University of Birmingham and British Antarctic Survey), Chile (University of Magallanes), and France (University of Rennes).