I am broadly interested in the relationships between animals and microorganisms. Specifically, I am fascinated with the complex non-pathogenic relationships between insects and bacteria. Numerous insects have co-opted the metabolism of microbe(s) for their own advantage. These insects harbor symbionts that are responsible for some of the most exciting and unique phenotypes in the animal world. Symbionts allow insects to survive on novel diets that would normally be inaccessible or nutrient deficient, furthermore, symbionts can supply defense against abiotic stress (i.e. temperature) and predators/parasites.
Recently the animal microbiota has received attention for its vital role in correct animal development, nutrition, and overall health. These findings demonstrate the importance of microbe interactions in individual animals and in animal evolution. Genomic techniques provide access to the vast amount of host-associated microbial species that cannot be cultivated, offering insights into these important interactions.
My dissertation research examines the ecological and evolutionary relationships between A. mellifera and its bacterial gut community. Recent culture-independent surveys have revealed that the guts of the honey bees (Apis mellifera) from diverse geographic locations harbor the same 8-9 bacterial phylotypes. The characteristic microbiota constitutes >95% of the bacterial 16S rRNA sequences cloned from A. mellifera guts, and represent five bacterial classes. These observations suggest that A. mellifera has a symbiotic relationship with these bacteria, and that the association is maintained across generations. The existence of relatively simple and constant microbiota in A. mellifera makes it an ideal study system to research microbial community ecology and animal-microbe interactions.
Engel P, Martinson VG, Moran NA. 2012. Functional diversity within the simple gut microbiota of the honey bee. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. 2012 Jun 18 [Epub ahead of print].
Martinson VG, Moy J, Moran NA. 2012. Establishment of characteristic gut bacteria during development of the honey bee worker. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. February 3, 2012 [Epub ahead of print].
Martinson VG, Danforth BN, Minckley RL, Rueppell O, Tingek S, Moran NA. 2011. A simple and distinctive microbiota associated with honey bees and bumble bees. Molecular Ecology. 20: 619-628.
Cox-Foster DL, Conlan S, Holmes EC, Palacios G, Evans JD, Moran NA, Quan PL, Briese T, Hornig M, Geiser DM, Martinson V, vanEngelsdorp D, Kalkstein AL, Drysdale A, Hui J, Zhai J, Cui L, Hutchison SK, Simons JF, Egholm M, Pettis JS, Lipkin WI. 2007. A metagenomic survey of microbes in honey bee colony collapse disorder. Science 318(5848): 283-7.