Benjamin Parker, Ph.D.

Parker
Title
Assistant Professor
Department
Microbiology
Institution
University of Tennessee
Address
1311 Cumberland Ave. #517
City, State, Zip
Knoxville, TN 37996
Phone
865-974-9818
E-mail
[email protected]
Website
http://www.ben-parker.org
Research Field
Evolutionary Biology; Microbiology
Award Year
2020

Research

The Parker lab studies coevolution between animals and microbes. Interactions with beneficial bacteria play an important role in the metabolism, immune function, and overall health of most animals. We will use a simple model animal, an insect called the pea aphid, and its microbial partners as a basic research organism for studying host-microbe symbiosis. For aphids, harboring a bacterium called Regiella confers protection against a deadly fungus. Although this relationship offers an obvious advantage, harboring bacteria is also costly to aphids and reduces their survival. Likely because of these trade-offs, we have found that not all aphids maintain the same densities of the beneficial bacterium. We will use genome sequencing to map the immune system genes that aphids use to control Regiella and study how differences among individuals in these mechanisms govern relationships with beneficial and pathogenic microbes. We will then study how these genes are evolving in natural populations. This work will contribute to a broader understanding of how immune systems evolve and how natural selection shapes relationships between animals and beneficial microbes. Our work will inform more applied research exploring the effects of microbial communities on human health and disease. 

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