The Laboratory for Vector Biology and Bacterial Pathogens has two primary focus areas:

Utilizing Molecular Tools, Functional Genomics, and Animal Models to Investigate Vector-Pathogen Interactions

This project builds on recent work reporting tick transmission of relapsing fever spirochetes and genome sequencing of both the pathogen and tick vector. We have utilized both next generation and third generation sequencing technologies to investigate a number of outstanding questions in the field. We have also performed transcriptional studies on the tick to further understand how relapsing fever spirochetes adapt to the arthropod vector. Our goal by utilizing whole genome and transcriptomic analyses is to better understand vector-pathogens interactions and identify novel areas of intervention for both the vector and pathogen.

Immunological Responses to the Relapsing Fever Spirochete Borrelia turicatae in Infected Rhesus Macaques: Implications for Pathogenesis and Diagnosis

The relapsing fever spirochete Borrelia turicatae persists in the highly oxidative environment of its soft-bodied tick vector

Crystal Structure of Borrelia turicatae protein, BTA121, a differentially regulated gene in the tick-mammalian transmission cycle of relapsing fever spirochetes

Blood feeding of Ornithodoros turicata larvae using an artificial membrane system

Imaging Borrelia turicatae producing the green fluorescent protein reveals persistent colonization of Ornithodoros turicata midgut and salivary glands from nymphal acquisition through transmission

Transcriptional Profiling the 150 kb Linear Megaplasmid of Borrelia turicatae Suggests a Role in Vector Colonization and Initiating Mammalian Infection

Defining the Ecology of Pathogens Transmitted by Argasid Ticks

Argasid (soft bodied) ticks not only transmit relapsing fever spirochetes but also African swine fever virus, an emerging and highly contagious pathogen with high mortality rates in domestic pigs. Through multi institutional collaborations, we utilize diagnostic assays to evaluate mammalian exposure to soft ticks and the pathogens they transmit. Moreover, we are investigating the distribution of argasids through population genetic studies and their maintenance in nature. These projects will define the disease burden and ecology in regions of the globe where the pathogens are ignored. 

Case report: A retrospective serological analysis indicating human exposure to tick-borne relapsing fever spirochetes in Sonora, Mexico

Seroprevalence for the tick-borne relapsing fever spirochete Borrelia turicatae among small and medium sized mammals of Texas

Detection of Tickborne Relapsing Fever Spirochete, Austin, Texas, USA.

Vector Competence of Geographical Populations of Ornithodoros turicata for the Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever Spirochete Borrelia turicatae

New records of Ornithodoros puertoricensis Fox 1947 (Ixodida: Argasidae) parasitizing humans in rural and urban dwellings, Panama

Synanthropic mammals as potential hosts of tick-borne pathogens in Panama

Assessment of the Geographic Distribution of Ornithodoros turicata (Argasidae): Climate Variation and Host Diversity

Sequence Analysis and Serological Responses against Borrelia turicatae BipA, a Putative Species-Specific Antigen

Laboratory Personnel

Aparna Krishnavahjala

Postdoctoral Associate

Brittany Armstrong

Graduate Student

Michael W Curtis, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Associate

Alexander Robert Kneubehl

Graduate Student

Ashish Damania

Scientific Programmer

Laboratory Facilities

Our laboratory has dedicated research space as well as shared space at Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development. We have in house equipment for fluorescent microscopy, real-time PCR, gel imaging and documentation, ELISA, and a BSL-2 insectary for maintaining tick vectors.