How does the insect destroying fungus, Entomophthora muscae, manipulate the behaviour of houseflies?
My name is Sam Edwards and I am ESR2 in the INSECT DOCTORS programme and am based at both the University of Copenhagen and the University of Exeter. My project consists of discovering how the fungal pathogen Entomophthora muscae controls the behaviour of its fly host. The project requires the usage of behavioural analysis, RNA sequencing and bioinformatics tools to gain insight into this crazy host-pathogen interaction.
Two thirds of the way through my PhD already, how time flies! Over the past two years, I have had my fingers in so many pies that I confuse myself sometimes with what project I should focus on for that day/week. One thing it has taught me is, you can be enthusiastic about science and your topic, but maybe it is not always a good use of time to start yet another side project because you get curious! Luckily, I am realising that and so have tried to stop this happening and my main and side projects are coming along nicely.
So what have I done for two years? Well, my first year and a bit was spent learning about my study system and getting familiar with the literature (must remember to keep up with it too…). Once you grasp what is out there and realise how much is not, that is when things get fun and often challenging, since non-model systems tend to require more fiddling with. Many a long weekend were spent in the university basement staring at flies as they have their minds corrupted by the fungus before they die. Rather a moribund sight in an eerie place, glad I don’t watch many horror films. Watching these dying flies was crucial, as I had to understand the specific behaviours that were occurring, when and for how long, so I could collect the flies at specific time points and chop off their heads. Why? So that later I could crush them up and add some magic potion (RNA extraction kit) to extract the RNA that was being expressed in the brains during those behaviours.
Once the potion has done its work, the product is sent to other wizards that sequence your samples and magically send you back files with all the RNA you extracted. Then begins, for me anyway, the hard work. With all this RNA, you need to do bioinformatics to understand what it all means and to get your results. I have just presented my initial findings at the Gordon Research Conference on Fungal Genomics in New Hampshire, USA, but I have much left to do. Stay tuned!