Faculty mentor: Dr. Boyd
In a nutshell: Bacteria that infect insects have been shown to have orthology in their genes...We are studying whether these insect-related bacteria have common phages that infect them within their genomes.
In a bigger shell: Insects have the ability to evolve with the help of endosymbiont insect-associated bacteria. There have been a few relationships that have been shaped by viral vectored genes...,specifically, the insertion of genetic material from insect-associated bacteria into insects, like the relationship between bacteria Hamiltonella defensa and aphids. However, little is known about how these genes contribute to insect symbionts. In this study, we are identifying gene material of six bacterial species...with shared ancestry to infer that horizontal gene transfer happened with the insect-associated bacteria by looking at the phylogeny to see if the bacterial species have orthologous relationships between each other. Initially, the sequences of these bacteria were analyzed using PHASTER and PHAST to see if they had phage sequences in them. Then, these phage sequences were analyzed by OrthoFinder to determine if there were orthologous relationships among themselves. The [expected] results are shared virus-associated material from phylogeny, [infering] horizontal gene transfer happened in insect-associated bacteria.
End of year goal: To determine whether genes that enter a bacteria through horizontal gene transfer can change the phenotype and morphology of the host. This allows the insect-associated bacteria to act as an endosymbiont to insects and help the insect adapt to agricultural and medical situations.
A tip for others: One tip I have for others who want to work on a bioinformatics project is to brush up on their coding skills, particularly in Python.