Soil-transmitted parasitic worms infect over a billion people and cause devastating morbidity, primarily in the world’s most socioeconomically disadvantaged communities. Our research focuses on the thermal physiology of Strongyloides stercoralis, a potentially fatal skin-penetrating worm that infects at least 610 million people globally, nearly three times as many people as malaria. The soil-dwelling infective larvae of S. stercoralis and other parasitic nematodes actively locate potential hosts using host body heat, then transition into parasitic adults capable of surviving within the thermal environment of the mammalian host body. A major focus of our lab is understanding the molecular and neural adaptations that shape the thermal physiology of soil-transmitted parasitic worms, with the ultimate goal of enabling new prophylactic and therapeutic approaches to treating a major threat to global health and economic stability.
Specific research questions in the lab include:
How do thermal cues impact the behavior and survival of parasitic worms across ethological contexts, including the transitions between free-living, host-seeking, and host-resident life stages.
What are the thermosensory signaling pathways that drive the unique thermal physiology of parasitic nematodes?
What are the molecular and cellular adaptations that enable conserved thermosensory circuits support the divergent thermal repertories of parasitic and free-living nematodes?
We aim to answer these questions by applying quantitative behavioral analyses, functional genomics, and neural imaging techniques in S. stercoralis, the closely related rat parasite Strongyloides ratti, and the free-living nematodes C. elegans.
For more background regarding thermosensation in parasitic nematodes, please see Dr. Bryant's recent publications.