LE STUDIUM Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellowship
In residence at
Prof. Claudio Lazzari
Genomics of learning and memory in disease vector insects
Vector-borne diseases are among the most devastating problems in public health. An important part of the efforts for developing new control tools concerns understanding the biology of vector insects and its impact on parasite transmission. The study of activity rhythms, sensory ecology, mating systems, behavioral physiology and chemical ecology has received much attention, providing novel insight to hinder the circulation of parasites in human populations. However, despite their important adaptive role, the learning abilities of disease vector insects remain poorly studied. Furthermore, the impact of individual experience on the transmission of pathogens is mainly ignored. The IRBI has advanced this area of knowledge in the last decade and the wealth of information gathered allows further exploration of this frontier of science. The objective of our project is to initiate the characterisation of the molecular bases of cognitive abilities in human disease vectors. We propose evaluating changes in gene expression driven by learning and memory in the kissing-bug Rhodnius prolixus, vector of Chagas disease. Our study will be part of a multidisciplinary consortium that will explore the cognitive abilities of disease vectors and their epidemiological impact, through an integrative approach combining bioinformatics, laboratory, semi-field and field work. Applying quantitative transcriptomic analyses, we will characterise learning-induced gene expression changes in the brains of these vector bugs. The main goal of our Le Studium project is to identify a set of genes whose altered expression underlies memory formation in the brain of a vector insect. Our ultimate goal is to determine whether vector cognitive abilities may be exploited for control purposes.