Rita Rio, Ph.D.
Microbiota is defined as the microbes that live on or in a host for a lengthy period. Members of the microbiota have different associations with their host ranging from parasitic to mutualistic with these definitions being fluid pending ecological context. Due to culture-independent technologies mostly propelled by high-throughput sequencing, we now recognize microbiota as essential components of animal (and plants!) biology. I have worked with the microbiota of different invertebrates, understanding fundamental features of microbiota biology, including the characterization of composition, transmission mode, community structure and dynamics, and functional contributions towards host biology.The primary model system in the lab is the tsetse fly, the obligate vector of African trypanosomes, parasites that inflict major health, agricultural and economic detriment to afflicted areas. I have worked with tsetse flies for over 20 years and have contributed to research that has enhanced our understanding of integrative genome evolution (i.e., on the bacterial symbiont, trypanosome and tsetse genomes) using a systems biology approach. My research group is particularly interested in the functional contributions of the microbiota and how these are regulated to impact tsetse development, reproductive biology and vector competence. My laboratory utilizes interdisciplinary approaches, specifically the fusion of ecological and evolutionary theory, microbiology and bioinformatics with molecular biology assays, to address our hypotheses. We eventually aim to manipulate tsetse microbiota towards the synthesis of novel vector control mechanisms by targeting essential microbiota, either by manipulating population sizes, disrupting crucial metabolic pathways, or through genetic engineering aimed at producing anti-trypanosomal products. Impeding the tsetse population would also thwart the transmission of African trypanosomes.