Genetics and Behaviour of Ticks
Only by understanding the fundamental biology of ticks can we develop methods to control them and prevent tick-borne diseases.
My research aims to identify the genetic and mechanistic basis of host-seeking behaviour of the black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis). I have also developed a behavioural assay which established that the newly invasive Asian longhorned tick (Haemaphysalis longicornis) has unusual US mammalian host preferences so is unlikely to transmit the pathogen that causes Lyme disease.
Genetics and Reproductive Biology of Social Bees
Understanding the mechanistic basis of novel biological traits leads to insights into how such traits evolved. The evolution of an ‘altruistic’ sterile worker caste in the social insects is a fundamental question for evolutionary biology as it requires the existence of genes that reduce personal reproduction. However, the molecular and developmental mechanisms regulating the sterility of the worker caste are poorly understood.
In honey bee (Apis mellifera) colonies the presence of the queen, secreting her pheromones, inhibits ovary activation in workers. My Ph.D. research identified the genetic and mechanistic basis of worker sterility in the honey bee. Such a breakthrough helps us understand how the unique traits of the social insects evolved from a solitary ancestor.
Philosophy of Biology
Biologists are highly successful at investigating life but we have a limited understanding of how biological knowledge is constructed and utilised. I am particularly interested in investigating research practices within Biology and my unique approach has been to critically engage with my own empirical research.
I have investigated how the techniques of molecular biology (for example, RNA interference) have been developed from natural systems. This project also provided evidence for the vital role of basic biological research for applied research. In addition, I have conducted a conceptual analysis of 'the gene' and ascertained that the concept of the gene that is the focus in a particular research situation is dependent on the experimental practices that a biologist is employing.