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Dissertation Research


Rhodnius pallescens
Photo by Kaylee


A Multi-scale Study of a Chagas disease vector

Background: Understanding the roles of gut bacteria within insect disease vectors is critical to improving our understanding of the transmission of vector-borne pathogens such as Trypanosoma cruzi, the etiologic agent of Chagas disease, which infects millions of humans throughout Latin America.


My research investigates (1) habitat- related differences in gut bacteria of Rhodnius pallescens, the principal vector of Chagas disease in Panama and (2) interactions between vector gut bacteria and vector competence for transmitting T. cruzi.


Principal research questions are: (1) Does habitat disturbance influence vector gut microbial diversity? (2) Do trypanosome parasite infections cause a shift in the microbial diversity of the gut microbial community, and (3) Can these microbial community changes influence the vector’s ability to transmit T. cruzi?


1.    Richards, R., Willoughby, A., Arnold, K.M., Evans, M., Majewska, A., Suh, D., Schatz, A., Teitelbaum, C., Joy Vaz, J. The relative importance of environmental and host factors for the distribution of a multi-host, environmentally persistent, zoonotic parasite. Submitted 2021.

2.    Kieran, T.J., Arnold, K.M., Thomas, J.C., Varian, C.P., Saldaña, A., Calzada, J.E., Glenn, T.C. and Gottdenker, N.L. Regional biogeography of microbiota composition in the Chagas disease vector Rhodnius pallescens. Parasites & vectors, 12(1), pp.1-13. 2019

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