Many of the viruses that infect humans, animals, and plants are transmitted from one host to another by insects and other arthropods. Arthropods can serve as vectors and hosts for the viruses that they transmit, and in some cases, viruses induce behavioral and physiological changes in hosts that facilitate transmission. The central aim of the project is to identify vector molecules that recognize and respond to virus infection and characterize the direct effect of virus infection on arthropod vectors. The central hypothesis is that the insect immune system is activated by viruses resulting in successful transmission to animal and plant hosts with little to no virulence to the vector. The project will address this hypothesis by developing a fundamental understanding of the vector response to virus infection, identifying vector proteins that interact directly with the virus during the infection cycle, and exploring the possible links between vector physiology and behaviors to virus infection status. The project results are expected to contribute to our understanding of how some organisms can tolerate or fight off viral pathogens. These findings may lead to the development of novel strategies to prevent transmission of viruses and/or the identification of unique molecules to combat virus diseases.
The broader impacts of the proposal are the contribution to education of the general public on basic scientific principals which will enable them to make informed decisions regarding scientific technologies that directly impact them. The investigator will develop an interactive exhibit entitled "Arthropods as Vectors" for the Kansas State University Insect Zoo that will be displayed for the duration of the CAREER award. New teaching tools incorporating virology and virus-vector interactions in middle school science curricula will be prepared and made publicly available on the World Wide Web. The award will enable the training of the next generation of scientists and enhance diversity by mentoring undergraduate students from underrepresented groups as they conduct research projects on the physiological outcomes of virus infection of arthropod vectors. Additionally, a scientist-science fair participant "pen pal" program targeted to students in rural locations will be developed.