Exploring interactions between entomopathogens and Spotted Wing Drosophila

Drosophila suzukii (spotted wing drosophila, SWD) has recently invaded the UK and its rapid population build-up and geographical spread is resulting in severe damage to soft and stone fruits. Currently, control of this invasive pest is reliant on chemical insecticides, but fungal pathogens such as Metarhizium sp. offer effective alternatives to chemicals with lower environmental impact. Despite the importance of Metarhizium sp. as biocontrol agents, there are still several aspects relating to their efficacy that are unknown. This project provides exciting opportunities for the student to compare the virulence of different Metarhizium strains and use comparative genomics and transcriptomics approaches to investigate the molecular basis of fungal pathogenicity and the corresponding immune response in the Drosophila host. It is envisaged that the student will identify and characterise Metarhizium effector genes and develop molecular tools for genome-wide functional analysis, targeting multiple pathogenesis related genes.

The project aims to provide an in-depth understanding of the host-pathogen interactions, revealing new insights into processes in both the fungus and insect that either promote or disrupt effective pest control. A better understanding of these processes will enable their future manipulation as part of improved biocontrol measures for insect pests of socio-economic importance.

Objectives

  • Identify and characterise the most effective strains of Metarhizium for controlling SWD
  • Investigate the underlying mechanisms contributing to modes of pathogenesis
  • Investigate determinants of the insect immune response