The long-term objectives of the candidate (Dr. Joshua B. Benoit) are to become an authority on the physiology of insect disease vectors and increase public awareness of the role of insects on public health. The goal of this fellowship is to develop the candidate's ability to assess the biochemistry, molecular biology and physiology of vector reproduction. The training plan provides opportunities to conduct extensive studies at the interface between molecular biology and reproductive physiology. Tsetse flies are the sole vector of African sleeping sickness. Vaccine-based methods have not been successful for control of trypanosomiasis. A unique aspect of this disease vector is its K-strategy of reproduction. Mothers provide nutrients, directly to their intrauterine progeny via a milk gland and only give birth to 8-10 offspring in their lifetime. Interference with tsetse reproduction can supplement trapping and other control methods used to reduce tsetse population numbers and decrease disease transmission. Currently, there is little information on tsetse reproduction, particularly how nutrients are mobilized to the larva. Since this aspect is unique in tsetse, control techniques blocking maternal nutrients could be tsetse specific. The objectives of this study are to 1) characterize the metabolism and transfer of lipids from the mother to her offspring, and 2) decipher how this process is influenced by the presence of symbiotic bacteria. Characterization of lipid metabolism and mobilization will focus on the adipokinetic hormone (AKH;this portion has been completed) and Brummer (Bmm) lipase systems, as well as lipid transport by lipophorin (Lp) during the reproductive cycle. Gene expression and protein synthesis will be assessed spatially and temporally during larval intrauterine development. Function of these proteins will be assessed utilizing RNA interference to knockdown their expression. Role of symbiotic bacteria in lipid metabolism and movement during reproduction will be assessed by analyzing molecular and physiological differences between wild type and antibiotic-treated aposymbiotic flies (flies lacking symbionts). Aposymbiotic flies are infertile and abort undeveloped larva early in their developmental cycle. The mechanism(s) underlying this phenotype are unknown, but malnourishment due to milk secretions deficient in essential nutrients is the current hypothesis. A possible deficiency is in the lipid content of the milk. Differential lipid composition between wild type and aposymbiotic flies will be assessed by obtaining milk and comparing the quantitative and qualitative differences in milk lipids. Fertility can be restored in aposymbiotic flies by supplementation of blood meals with yeast extract. Lipid compositions of aposymbiotic flies with and without yeast extract-supplemented blood will also be performed. To determine genetic effects of dietary supplementation, wild-type and aposymbiotic flies will be compared by Illumina sequencing of whole body transcriptome. This project will provide avenues to develop proficiency in multiple molecular and physiological techniques that will provide the groundwork for the candidate to become an authority on the molecular physiology of disease vectors.

Public Health Relevance

Vaccines and other medical treatments have failed to prevent African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) transmitted by tsetse flies, but strategies that control tsetse populations have proved successful to reduce transmission rates. In this study, we investigate role of lipid metabolism during tsetse reproduction, specifically to assess if lipid transfer to the larvae can be controlled to reduce populations of this fly. Blocking nutrient movement to larvae could potentially be developed into a tsetse-specific control method since few insects utilize viviparous reproduction.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Postdoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F32)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-F13-C (20))
Program Officer
Costero, Adriana
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Yale University
Public Health & Prev Medicine
Schools of Medicine
New Haven
United States
Zip Code
Attardo, Geoffrey M; Benoit, Joshua B; Michalkova, Veronika et al. (2014) The homeodomain protein ladybird late regulates synthesis of milk proteins during pregnancy in the tsetse fly (Glossina morsitans). PLoS Negl Trop Dis 8:e2645
Michalkova, Veronika; Benoit, Joshua B; Attardo, Geoffrey M et al. (2014) Amelioration of reproduction-associated oxidative stress in a viviparous insect is critical to prevent reproductive senescence. PLoS One 9:e87554
Benoit, Joshua B; Attardo, Geoffrey M; Michalkova, Veronika et al. (2014) A novel highly divergent protein family identified from a viviparous insect by RNA-seq analysis: a potential target for tsetse fly-specific abortifacients. PLoS Genet 10:e1003874
Telleria, Erich Loza; Benoit, Joshua B; Zhao, Xin et al. (2014) Insights into the trypanosome-host interactions revealed through transcriptomic analysis of parasitized tsetse fly salivary glands. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 8:e2649
Benoit, Joshua B; Hansen, Immo A; Attardo, Geoffrey M et al. (2014) Aquaporins are critical for provision of water during lactation and intrauterine progeny hydration to maintain tsetse fly reproductive success. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 8:e2517
Michalkova, Veronika; Benoit, Joshua B; Weiss, Brian L et al. (2014) Vitamin B6 generated by obligate symbionts is critical for maintaining proline homeostasis and fecundity in tsetse flies. Appl Environ Microbiol 80:5844-53
Baumann, Aaron A; Benoit, Joshua B; Michalkova, Veronika et al. (2013) Juvenile hormone and insulin suppress lipolysis between periods of lactation during tsetse fly pregnancy. Mol Cell Endocrinol 372:30-41
Attardo, Geoffrey M; Benoit, Joshua B; Michalkova, Veronika et al. (2012) Analysis of lipolysis underlying lactation in the tsetse fly, Glossina morsitans. Insect Biochem Mol Biol 42:360-70
Benoit, Joshua B; Attardo, Geoffrey M; Michalkova, Veronika et al. (2012) Sphingomyelinase activity in mother's milk is essential for juvenile development: a case from lactating tsetse flies. Biol Reprod 87:17, 1-10