Project title: You've got a friend in me: Deciphering the genomics of host empowerment by facultative endosymbionts.
Summary: Facultative endosymbiotic microbes of insects have gained appreciation as intermittently present members of the gut microbiome, improving the lives of their hosts for transient phases. Some specific species of microorganisms are taken up by insects to be part of the collective holobiome. This drastically improves their quality of life and empowers these host animals during specific scenarios such as niche adaptation, specialized nutritional provision, and defense against natural enemies.
Regiella insecticola is an astounding facultative endosymbiont because of the diverse phenotypic traits that it confers to its host aphids, enabling them to live and feed on new plants, and fight off pathogenic fungi. Although the phenotypic advantages of harboring R. insecticola have been highlighted in the past decade, the genomic basis of this endosymbiotic relationship is yet to be uncovered. Furthermore, most of these interesting microbes are unculturable, thus making their analysis unfeasible through classical molecular microbiology techniques.
This project will utilize high throughput genome sequencing and transcriptomic data, along with a newly developed method to study unculturable endosymbiotic bacteria. These analyses will uncover the genotypic intricacies of what enables certain microbes to be advantageous endosymbiotic partners that come to aid their hosts during challenging times.