Postdoctoral Research Scholar
I am interested in the areas of insect behavior and chemical ecology, specifically in understanding the mechanisms underlying insect chemical-mediated behaviors. My doctoral research under supervision of Dr. Jules Silverman focused on non-nestmate queen and worker adoption, and colony fusion in the invasive Argentine ant, Linepithema humile. By combining behavioral assays, cuticular hydrocarbon gas-chromatography analyses, and DNA microsatellite analyses, I determined that cuticular hydrocarbon similarity and genetic similarity were associated with adoption of non-nestmate queens and fusion of mutually aggressive Argentine ant colonies. These two processes, queen adoption and colony fusion, may be involved in the transition from smaller, territorial colonies to larger, more open Argentine ant colonies in the introduced range.
In the laboratory of Dr. Fred Gould, my research focuses on understanding the genetic and molecular basis of pheromone reception in Heliothis virescens and Heliothis subflexa. By combining backcross QTL analyses with candidate gene mapping, the Gould lab has identified a set of candidate olfactory receptor genes associated with male responses to species-specific female pheromone compounds. My research goal is to determine if interspecific differences in regulation of these candidate genes and/or interspecific nucleotide changes in structural regions of these genes underlie specialized male moth response to (Z)-9-tetradecenal in H. virescens and (Z)-9-hexadecenal in H. subflexa. To achieve this goal, I am performing quantitative real-time PCR analysis to compare expression levels of candidate genes between species, and reverse-transcription PCR and cDNA sequence alignment to identify interspecific genetic variants. I plan to express these candidate genes in a Drosophila olfactory receptor neuron to characterize their activation by female pheromone compounds via electrophysiological and behavioral assays. I also plan to sequence regulatory regions and determine chromosomal organization of these candidate genes from H. virescens and H. subflexa bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC) clones. I also plan to identify patterns of molecular evolution of pheromone receptor genes by comparing orthologous sequences among other closely related species of Heliothinae.