Junior Professorship Parasite Host Interactions: Research Focus

The Junior Professorship has two main research foci:

 1)     Eimeria and other pathogens in a house mouse hybrid zone

The group aims to establish a model system for coevolution and local adaptation approachable both in its original ecological settings and in laboratory experiments. We are investigating the mouse parasite Eimeria falciformis in the hybrid zone of two subspecies of the house mouse in Brandenburg. The group tests in how far the population structure of these Eimeria species coincides with the host hybrid zone. We analyse whether specific genetic elements in Eimeria strains and species correlate with host genotypes and whether this is driven by an „adaptive introgression“ via hybridization. 

In future experiments we will compare naturally occurring compatible and incompatible combinations of host and parasite strains in cross-infections. We will analyse how the identified combinations of host and parasite genotypes influence parasitological, histological and immunity related phenotypes. We will especially compare gene expression data from field studies with these infection experiments and infections with immunized and immune deficient (knock-out) mice. This work has the potential to link phenotypes of a productive infection with genotypes of both host and parasite and to provide an understanding of the underlying molecular mechanisms. 

2)     Metabarcoding analyses of parasite community ecology

It is often necessary to go beyond a „one host one parasite“ system to infer reciprocal adaptation and to include the whole parasite community of a host species and its ecology in the analysis. As a first goal we want to test whether the occurrence of a specific parasite correlates with ecological and immunological parameters of the host and therefore need a fine resolution in diagnosing parasite species or strains. Secondly we want to study interactions between components of the parasite community and the interactions of this community composition with the mentioned ecological and immunological parameters of host individuals. To achieve this we need both comprehensive diagnosis of infections and high sample sizes. To this end we develop DNA-sequencing based high throughput methods to investigate non-invasive samples (i.e. fecal samples) for the presence of eukaryote parasites and other pathogens based on marker genes.

We apply these metabarcoding methods to target host species relevant for ecology and conservation collaborating with groups within the IZW:

  • Contributing to the Serengeti Hyena Project, we analyse the relation between reproduction, disease, immune and stress status of hyenas with the occurrence of different parasites and parasite strains. In this host the social status of the animals within the pack is considered; another focus is on the complex influence of dry and wet seasons, the resulting migrations and changes in prey spectrum on the parasite fauna.
  • Contributing to the project “Health status and diseases in the middle European lowland wolf population” we genotype the parasites of the wolf using intestinal contents of wolves found dead and wolf faeces. We analyse whether wolves are infected by parasites of farm and companion animals and reciprocally whether new parasites are introduced by wolves.
  • We also asses the complete parasite community of the house mouse sampled in the project described above. This will allow us to include the effect of additional pathogens in our analysis of a correlation of host and parasite genotypes with immunological parameters and to control for them. Furthermore, this provides an unbiased approach to screen for all parasites corresponding in their population structure to that of the house mouse hybrid zone.

Further information can be found at https://www.biologie.hu-berlin.de/de/gruppenseiten/ecoevolpara/