Monika Gulia-Nuss: Understanding ticks for pesticide and vaccine development

Title

Functional characterization of tick insulin signaling pathway genes

Mentor

Monika Gulia-Nuss

Department

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Biosketch

Dr. Gulia-Nuss is an Assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. She teaches upper-level "Molecular Biology" (BCH405) and "Ethics and Professionalism in Biotechnology" (BIOT350) courses. She received her PhD in mosquito-malaria parasite interactions from India. Since then she has been working on different aspects of mosquito biology and for last five years has also started working on the Lyme disease vector tick, Ixodes scapularis. Her laboratory employs cutting edge molecular biology and genomics techniques including Hi-C genome architecture and CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing. Since joining UNR faculty in 2016, she has mentored ~20 undergraduates: three of them received awards for best presentations at the national conferences and others have been awarded scholarships through UNR (NURA, INBRE).

Project Overview

Tick-borne diseases are a major human health problem in the United States and throughout the world. Lyme disease, caused by bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, and transmitted by the black-legged ticks is the most significant vector-borne disease in the United States. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 400,000 new cases of Lyme disease annually. The recent cases of new tick-borne viruses further intensify the need for tick control. Most tick control methods rely on chemical insecticide; however, ticks are developing resistance to these chemicals. Understanding tick biology in order to find novel targets for control are needed. My research program focuses on different biochemical and signaling pathways to identify genes that can lead to novel acaricides specific to ticks and new gene candidates for the tick-based vaccine. This project will be focused on understanding the functions of one such signaling pathway: the insulin signaling pathway. Tick' insulin signaling pathway consists of four insulins, one insulin receptor, and the conserved downstream genes. Insulin signaling in other invertebrates is functionally conserved and involved in nutrient metabolism, regulation of digestive enzymes secretion, steroid hormones secretion, and pathogen development within vector hosts. However, the function of tick insulin pathway has not yet explored. The current development of CRISPR/Cas9 and RNA interference tools in ticks now allow us to tease apart the functions of the members of tick insulin pathway genes. In this project, we will individually knock-down/ knockout four insulins and insulin receptor to understand their functions.