Research Initiation Award: Evolutionary and ecological impacts of horizontal gene transfer in arthropods
The Historically Black Colleges and Universities-Undergraduate Program (HBCU-UP) Research Initiation Awards (RIAs) provide support to STEM junior faculty at HBCUs who are starting to build a research program, as well as for mid-career faculty who may have returned to the faculty ranks after holding an administrative post or who needs to redirect and rebuild a research program. Faculty members may pursue research at their home institution, at an NSF-funded Center, at a research intensive institution or at a national laboratory. The RIA projects are expected to help further the faculty member's research capability and effectiveness, to improve research and teaching at his or her home institution, and to involve undergraduate students in research experiences. With support from the National Science Foundation, Spelman College will conduct research on the movement of genetic material between organisms by means other than reproduction. This project will provide valuable research experience and mentorship for several minority undergraduate females at Spelman College and also during their summers at the University of Rochester. The project has the potential to be a model for increasing the number of minority females pursuing degree programs in STEM by infusing cutting-edge research and research techniques into the Spelman classroom. In addition, the project will help Spelman build its research capacity and enhance the educational and research experiences of their undergraduate females.
The objective of this project is to identify and characterize horizontal gene transfers (HGTs) of bacterial and fungal origin among niche-sharing arthropod species, specifically among blood-feeding and phloem-feeding arthropods. Specifically, this study aims to: Identify HGTs in the genomes of multiple arthropod species that share an ecological niche; and 2) Determine the potential functions, origins, and transfer mechanisms of identified HT genes in their recipient arthropod hosts. The results from Aim 1 would allow for the largest comparison of HGTs in multiple host arthropod species from multiple donor species done to date. The resulting data set obtained will be used to identify patterns in gene function, donor species, transfer mechanisms, and transfer rates using a variety of bioinformatic tools, as well as molecular methods. Findings from this work will allow for a better understanding of the role that HGT plays in generating phenotypic novelty in eukaryotes. The knowledge and information generated by this work will help to address questions surrounding the mechanisms, rates, and roles of HGT in eukaryotes, as well as contribute to work on genome evolution and gene regulation and functionalization. This work will be conducted in collaboration with the University of Rochester and the research will be incorporated into a research-based ecology course.