This action funds an NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology for FY 2020, Broadening Participation of Groups Under-represented in Biology. The fellowship supports a research and training plan for the Fellow that will increase the participation of groups underrepresented in biology. The objective of this study is to understand the role that wild birds play in transmitting Vibrio cholerae, the bacterial species that causes cholera. Vibrio cholerae is one of the most important human pathogens, however little is known concerning how V. cholerae interacts with its environment outside of the human host, specifically how, and when, it infects other species. Traditionally, studies on V. cholerae have focused on how it causes disease in humans, however there is growing evidence that V. cholerae are able to infect waterfowl, and that waterfowl species may be capable of transmitting the bacteria. This study will examine whether waterfowl are ‘competent’ hosts for V. cholerae, e.g. whether V. cholerae is simply consumed by waterfowl and the infection is transient, or whether V. cholerae is now becoming a natural part of the intestinal bacterial community in avian species. In addition, this study will examine the evolutionary strategies that bacterial species, such as V. cholerae, use in adapting or re-adapting to new hosts. In addition to this research, the fellow will promote the greater inclusion of diverse and under-represented groups through the hands-on mentorship, career development, and educational support while performing research at Yale University and at the University of Central Florida.

Vibrio cholerae remains one of the most prominent pathogens in human history. Recent findings suggest birds are playing an increasing role in the dissemination of the pathogen. However, whether this represents an unexplored pathway of pathogen mobility, or bacterial re-emergence into a host-pathogen system, .e.g. waterfowl, is yet to be determined. The fellow will investigate how interactions between this opportunistic microbe and anthropogenic processes influence pathogen re-emergence within a natural avian system. Specifically, this study will focus on free-ranging, peridomestic Mallards naturally exposed to V. cholerae among anthropogenically associated aquatic habitats of eastern Florida. Given the rising incidence of isolates from birds, the warming Gulf coast, and the paucity of human hosts, it is expected that V. cholerae are now alternatively colonizing southeastern U.S. waterfowl. Through this research, the fellow also seeks to continue a model of outreach both at Yale and at UCF, through additional personnel funding acquired to provide research opportunities for under-represented groups at both universities. The fellow will also increase outreach to community college students, who have the fewest opportunities to integrate research into their studies.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI)
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Daniel Marenda
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Ayala, Andrea Josefina
United States
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