Mechanisms underlying insect stress tolerance, reproductive physiology, regulation of metabolism and aging are the encompassing themes of my research, with the goal of integrating these topics under whole system studies that use molecular-, organismal- and population-based approaches. The emphasis of my lab is on producing broadly-trained biologists that have knowledge and experience in a variety of techniques, allowing proficiency in bioinformatics, laboratory techniques and field research. Although individuals within my lab are not limited to a specific insect system, there is a slant toward medically-important insects/arthropods such as mosquitoes, tsetse flies and ticks.
Insect reproductive physiology. Insect reproduction varies from oviparity (egg production) to viviparity (birth of live young). The main point of this research is on factors that influence egg production (mosquitoes, bed bugs) and production of live young (tsetse flies, cockroaches). Research on tsetse flies and cockroaches focuses on the mobilization of maternal nutrients from stores to feed developing progeny within the mother, a process known as insect lactation. The goal of these studies are to identify reproductive bottlenecks that could be used as targets for control of pestiferous insects. Individuals focusing on this topic will have a broad understanding of the molecular mechanisms of reproductive physiology.
Example references for insect reprodutive biology
Benoit, J. B., Attardo, G. M., Baumann, A. A., Michalkova, V., and Aksoy, S. (2015) Adenotrophic viviparity in tsetse flies: potential for population control and as an insect model for lactation. Annual Review of Entomology, 60, 351.
Benoit, J. B., Attardo, G. M., Michalkova, V., 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 Genetics, 10, e1003874.
Benoit, J. B., Hansen, I. A., Attardo, G. M., et al. (2014) Aquaporins are critical for provision of water during lactation and intrauterine progeny hydration to maintain tsetse fly reproductive success. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, 8, e2517.
Mechanisms of stress tolerance in arthropods. The ability of an organism to tolerate and respond to stress is critical to its establishment and persistence in specific localities. The objectives of this research are to identify mechanisms utilized at multiple biological levels (molecular to population) by insects to prevent and recover from stress. Projects investigating these responses range from direct measurement of insect stress tolerance to functional genomics and metabolomic analyses. When possible field studies will be integrated into these projects to assess if mechanisms identified in the laboratory can be confirmed in natural populations. Individuals working on these projects will have extensive knowledge of molecular mechanisms utilized by insect to prevent stress-induced damage and techniques necessary to investigate these mechanisms.
Example references for insect stress biology
Rosendale, A. J., Romick-Rosendale, L. E., Watanabe, M., Dunlevy, M. E., and Benoit, J. B. (2016) Mechanistic underpinnings of dehydration stress in the American dog tick revealed through RNA-Seq and metabolomics. Journal of Experimental Biology, 219, 1808-1819.
Benoit, J. B., Lopez-Martinez, G., Patrick, K. R., Phillips, Z. P., Krause, T. B., and Denlinger, D. L. (2011) Drinking a hot blood meal elicits a protective heat shock response in mosquitoes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108, 8026-8029.
Benoit, J. B., and Denlinger, D. L. (2010) Meeting the challenges of on-host and off-host water balance in blood-feeding arthropods. Journal of Insect Physiology, 56, 1366-1376.
Regulation of nutrient storage and breakdown. Maintenance of nutrient levels is critical for organisms to maintain adequate body mass so they can function properly. This research focuses on the role of insulin and other hormones in relation to the regulation of nutrient levels during progeny production, stress and starvation. Projects involve the utilization of basic techniques of insect endocrinology and expand to the determination of large-scale transcript and proteome changes. Two specific goals for this research: 1. determine the role of nutrient homeostasis during insect reproduction to reduce the fecundity of pest insects, and 2. identify factors that are similar among animals to promote insects as models for metabolic diseases.
Example references for insect nutrient utilization
Baumann, A. A., Benoit, J. B., Michalkova, V., et al. (2013) Juvenile hormone and insulin suppress lipolysis between periods of lactation during tsetse fly pregnancy. Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology, 372, 30-41.
Attardo, G. M., Benoit, J. B., Michalkova, V., et al. (2012) Analysis of lipolysis underlying lactation in the tsetse fly, Glossina morsitans. Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 42, 360-370.
Benoit, J. B., Patrick, K. R., Desai, K., Hardesty, J. J., Krause, T. B., and Denlinger, D. L. (2010). Repeated bouts of dehydration deplete nutrient reserves and reduce egg production in the mosquito Culex pipiensi>. Journal of Experimental Biology, 213, 2763-2769.