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Serap Aksoy, PhD

Interim Department Chair and Professor of Epidemiology (Microbial Diseases); Acting Chair, Department of Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases

Research Summary

We study the epidemiology of African trypanosomiasis. Our laboratory investigations include the molecular basis of biological complexity that determine host-microbe interactions, with a focus on tsetse flies, insect vectors of the protozoan parasite African trypanosomes. We investigate the molecular nature of tsetse immunity during parasite transmission with the eventual goal of manipulating these responses to block disease transmission. Tsetse also harbors three maternally transmitted bacterial symbionts, which influence its nutritional and reproductive biology. We characterize the biology of each symbiont using biochemical, genetic, cellular and molecular techniques to understand the evolution and functional significance of each in the context of the dynamic host environment. We developed a paratransgenic approach where we exploit the commensal gut flora to express in the midgut mileu trypanocidal products that can block parasite development. The replacement of natural tsetse populations with the engineered parasite refractory flies can provide a novel approach for control of this devastating vector-borne disease. Our recent investigations have focused on parasite transcriptomics using single cell RNA methodology. These studies identified novel proteins on the surface of metacyclic parasites which are deposited to the mammalian bite site in saliva. These proteins are now being pursued as transmission blocking vaccine antigens to increase the toolbox for this disease.

Specialized Terms: African trypanosomes; Bacterial symbionts of tsetse flies; Transmission Blocking Vaccines

Extensive Research Description

Dr. Aksoy's research aims to understand the biology of host-pathogen interactions; in particular in tsetse flies, which transmit African trypanosomes and harbor multiple symbiotic microbes. Basic studies focus on the immune aspects of trypanosome transmission in tsetse, while the applied studies aim to harness this information to develop biologically sound and novel disease control strategies to interrupt parasite development in the tsetse vector. A second area of research focuses on the molecular and evolutionary basis of symbiosis. The biology of each tsetse symbiont is characterized using biochemical, genomic, genetic, cellular and molecular techniques to understand their functional significance in the context of host ecology.

Coauthors

Research Interests

Trypanosomiasis, African; Tsetse Flies; Global Health; One Health

Public Health Interests

Genetics, Genomics, Epigenetics; Global Health; Infectious Diseases; Vector Biology; Vector-borne Diseases

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Selected Publications