Genomics of blood-feeding insect vectors for novel vector-control strategies

Among protozoan infections in sub-Saharan Africa, Human African Trypanosomiasis (HAT) is ranked as one of the major parasitic disease affecting human health. This debilitating disease is caused by parasites known as Trypanosomes and is transmitted by Tsetse flies. The particular ecological environment of Tsetse flies and Trypanosomes is such that the disease is only found in the inter- tropical regions of Africa. HAT continues to present a major public health problem and a key factor limiting rural development in vast regions of tropical Africa. Sustainable control of HAT would utilize an integrated approach that exploits the transmission cycle on human-Trypanosome and Tsetse-Trypanosome interactions. The genome of one Tsetse species (Glossina morsitans) genome has been sequenced with the aim of developing new and efficient approaches for vector control.

Ongoing research

Transcriptional regulation studies

In collaboration with the Tsetse genome consortium at the Yale school of public health and the University of Tokyo s Department of genome sciences, TSS-seq tags have been used to refine the transcriptional regulatory regions the Glossina morsitans genome in order to gain insights into the mechanisms of transcription regulation in this important blood-feeding vector. In-silico approaches have been used to develop a method of Transcription start site identification using experimental data derived using the TSS-seq tag. Glossina morsitans basal transcription machinery has been achieved via comprehensive analyses of core promoter properties. Regulatory motifs in the proximal promoters of Glossina morsitans immunity genes have been elucidated using in silico methods. A data repository for Glossina morsitans promoter sequences has been availed for use by the insect community.

Comparative genomics of blood-feeding insect vectors

The genomes of five additional Tsetse fly species, namely; Glossina austeni, Glossina brevipalpis, Glossina fuscipes, Glossina pallidipes and Glossina palpalis have been sequenced. These species exhibit species-specific behavior in terms of choice of host and ability to transmit Trypanosomes (vectorial capacity). Here, we are utilizing genomic approaches to decipher the underlying genetic mechanisms responsible for specific hallmark characteristics associated with given Tsetse species. There is a special focus on the evolution of the immune system among the blood-feeding insect vectors. We seek to understand the genetic basis of immune gene evolution among all sequenced blood-feeding insect species using bioinformatic approaches.