1. Integrative physiology of cold tolerance in insects and spiders. Low temperature is one of the greatest challenges faced by insects and other arthropods. We investigate the physiological and molecular mechanisms that allow insects to survive extreme winter conditions. Two ongoing projects are 1) A project sponsored by the Kentucky Science and Engineering Foundation to investigate calcium-dependent signaling mechanisms that regulate rapid cold hardening, and 2) Physiological and biochemical adaptations of winter-active wolf spiders (Genus Schizocosa).
2. Genetics and control of invasive fruit pests. Postdoc Mark Garcia is leading projects on two invasive fruit pests, spotted wing Drosophila (Drosophila suzukii) and the Caribbean fruit fly, Anastrepha suspensa. For the Drosophila work, we are establishing populations of spotted wing Drosophila collected along a latitudinal gradient to investigate geographic variation in environmental stress tolerance and pesticide resistance. For the Caribbean fruit fly work, we are testing whether targeted overexpression of antioxidant enzymes can improve the performance of radiation-sterilized males released for Sterile Insect Technique programs.
3. Risk assessment of genetically modified insects used for Sterile Insect Technique. In a new project, we are investigating the likelihood that conditionally lethal transgenes developed for Sterile Insect Technique will fail under field conditions. Specifically, we are testing the extent to which genetic background, environmental variability, and evolutionary forces impact the effectiveness of conditionally lethal transgenes.
4. Mechanisms of extreme freeze tolerance. We are beginning collaborative work to investigate the mechanisms of extreme freeze tolerance in insects. Studies include comparative physiology and genomics of Antarctic and sub-Antarctic midges, and the functional genomics of extreme freeze tolerance in the drosophilid fly, Chymomyza costata.