• Mescher, Mark C (PI)
  • Mauck, Kerry E. (CoPI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


Parasites often manipulate their hosts in ways that favor the transmission of the parasite to other hosts. For pathogens that are transmitted by insect vectors, host odors are a likely target for such manipulation, because both plant- and animal-feeding insects use odor cues when foraging for food. But, little is known about how pathogen effects on host odors and other aspects of host chemistry influence the ecology of disease transmission by insects. This project will explore the effects of a widespread plant pathogen, cucumber mosaic virus on features of its host plant that influence key interactions with aphids, a common insect vector for the virus. Preliminary results indicate that aphids perform poorly on plants infected by cucumber mosaic virus, and rapidly leave infected plants when given an opportunity to move to healthy plants. Surprisingly, aphids are nevertheless attracted to the odors of infected plants, which release elevated levels of a blend of airborne chemicals that is otherwise similar to the odor of healthy plants. These findings suggest that it may be a good strategy for pathogens to exaggerate the cues used by insect vectors to find hosts. This research project will test that hypothesis by combining techniques and concepts from ecology, chemistry, and plant physiology to examine the understudied interactions among pathogens, plants, and insect vectors, and the consequences of these changes to interactions between pest insects and their natural enemies.

The knowledge gained from this study will be useful in developing management strategies for controlling viruses in agriculture. More generally, results from this project have broader relevance to understanding disease ecology and evolution, including human diseases that are spread by insect vectors, such as malaria. The proposed research will be integrated with educational activities aimed at training high-school and undergraduate science students. This project is well suited for K-12 education because it is easily broken down into units addressing distinct hypotheses that can provide research opportunities for students with little previous laboratory experience. This project will also support the dissertation research of a graduate student.

Effective start/end date5/1/104/30/14


  • National Science Foundation: $15,000.00


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