Halmos College Undergraduate Students and Faculty Publish Study in BMC Microbiology

NSU students and faculty have published an article in the peer-reviewed journal BMC Microbiology about new research that may contribute to the control of mosquitos and the eradication of mosquito-borne illnesses.

The article, “Glycoside Hydrolases Family 20 (GH20) Represent Putative Virulence Factors That are Shared by Animal Pathogenic Oomycetes but are Absent in Phytopathogens,” was co-authored by four 2016 graduates of the Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography: Isabel E. Olivera and Katrina C. Fins, biology majors; Sara A. Rodriguez, chemistry and biology double major; and Sumayyah K. Abiff, biology major.

The students, who were undergraduates when they conducted the research, worked under the direction of Aurélien Tartar, Ph.D., associate professor at the Halmos College, and Jaime L. Tartar, Ph.D., associate professor and research director at NSU’s College of Psychology. Olivera, Fins, and Rodriguez are now graduate students at NSU’s Health Professions Division (College of Pharmacy, College of Dental Medicine, and College of Osteopathic Medicine, respectively).

The study looks at levels of gene expression in an oomycete pathogen of mosquito larvae, adding to the body of knowledge that could prove instrumental in mosquito control.

“The students not only did the research, but it was high quality research that was published in a recognized journal in the discipline,” said Mahmood Shivji, Ph.D., professor at the Halmos College and director of NSU’s Guy Harvey Research Institute and Save our Seas Shark Research Center. “This is an important research contribution in the age of expanding Zika-transmitting mosquitoes, and a testament to the outstanding undergraduate students we have at NSU.”

“The students performed the totality of the wet lab experiments including microbial cultures, full-length transcripts characterizations, gene expression analyses, and data mining,” said Aurelien Tartar. “The students were supported by a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant that focuses on developing research opportunities for minority students.

“Our aim is to use pathogenomics technologies to identify new biological compounds that have mosquitocidal activities and potential as novel bio-insecticides,” Tartar said. “We focus on the genome of a mosquito pathogen called Lagenidium giganteum. This paper advanced our knowledge of the Lagenidium giganteum pathogenome (or the set of genes that are involved in producing disease in mosquito larvae).

“We demonstrated that we were able to discriminate between genes that did not appear to be involved in the infectious process (that is, little potential as insecticides), and genes that appeared to likely be involved in the infectious process (based on homology and gene expression patterns). We are now left with a smaller subset of genes that we are trying to fully characterize at a functional level in order to understand the impact that each gene product has on mosquito larvae.”

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