Insects are the most successful and diverse animals on earth, but why? It is their amazing ability to adapt and exploit new ecological niches that has led them to such extreme proliferation. It has been hypothesized that one of the secrets to their success is the relationships they have formed with microorganisms. Symbiotic microbes can provide insects with a staggering array of benefits, such as, provisioning nutrients missing in their hosts’ diets, protecting against natural enemies, buffering against heat stress and even detoxifying pesticides. However, we still know little about how insects use beneficial microbes when adapting to new environments and what role they have played in the evolution of their insect hosts.
This project will use aphids and their symbiotic bacteria as a model for understanding how microbial symbioses evolve in eukaryotes, and what role symbionts play in insect adaptation and evolution. The exact details of the project will be based on the student’s interest, and may include studies of the role of symbiosis in host adaptation to ecological niches, host and symbiont genome coevolution, host-microbe molecular interactions and evolutionary transitions to permanent symbiotic relationships.
The student will work closely with the supervisor and other members of the research group.