As the sun retreats to the horizon, a dying fly takes a final shaky step, ascending just a bit further up the flower stalk. Its proboscis extends out and adheres to the stem via a tiny drop of fluid. Legs quivering, the wings of the fly slowly rise up and away from its back. The fly is now still, and the fungus that was orchestrating the animal’s final movements emerges through the dead host’s cuticle to launch infectious spores onto the unsuspecting flies that forage below. It sounds like science fiction, but it’s just another sunset in the life of the zombie fungus Entomophthora muscae.
The Elya lab will use the E. muscae-fruit fly (“zombie fly”) system to further our understanding of host-pathogen interactions, with an emphasis on detailing the underpinnings of parasitic behavioral manipulation from molecules to circuits. We approach questions using a multidisciplinary approach spanning molecular biology, genetics, microbiology, neuroscience and behavior. The first projects in the lab will address:
1. What effectors (molecules, genes) does E. muscae use to elicit summiting behavior?
2. Do all fungal cells contribute to behavior manipulation of the host?
3. How is circadian timing of death achieved?
4. How are host circadian rhythms impacted by E. muscae?
In conjunction with these projects, the lab will also seek to pioneer transgenic techniques in E. muscae to enable unprecedented experimental access in a parasitic behavior manipulation system.
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