The Genetic and Neural Basis of Mosquito Behavior
Research in the McBride lab takes advantage of evolution in natural populations to understand how genes and neural circuits shape behavior. Our lab focuses in particular on odor preference in the mosquito Aedes aegypti. This mosquito includes an ancestral forest form that bites a variety of animals and a recently evolved domestic form that specializes in biting humans and has become the major worldwide vector of dengue, zika, yellow fever, and chikungunya viruses. One of the many new behaviors that help domestic mosquitoes find humans is a remarkably strong preference for human body odor. By comparing the two forms, we have begun to identify the genetic changes that confer preference for humans and to investigate how these changes alter odor-sensitive neurons and circuits in the brain to drive a mosquito to fly towards humans. Our work combines evolutionary genomics with molecular genetics, electrophysiology, and neural imaging.
Ultimately, we hope to expand our understanding of the molecular and neural control of behavior as well as inform efforts to prevent this dangerous mosquito from biting and spreading disease to humans.