Gap junctions form between cells of most higher animals, including insects and mammals. In insects and other invertebrates, they are encoded by the innexin genes, while in chordates such as humans they are formed by two protein families, the connexins and pannexins. Gap junctions formed by any of the three help coordinate multicellular activity by the selective transfer of small metabolites and ions between adjacent cells. Additionally, recent work has demonstrated that one-half of a gap junction, called a hemichannel, can provide an important communication modality by transferring molecules from the cytoplasm to the extracellular environment (and vice-versa).
Our lab is interested in several facets of the molecular biology and physiology of insect gap junctions. We regularly use techniques including multiple types of fluorescent microscopy (both epifluorescent and confocal) in combination with immunological approaches to examine expression and trafficking of innexin proteins. As well, we are investigating the regulation of innexin genes in lepidopterans (caterpillars) and flies, using a combination of in vitro and in vivo reporter constructs. We also use microinjection, cytometry and fluorescent microscopy to examine the activity of both gap junctions and hemichannels, as well as to investigate the functionality of these channels in vitro. Also, we are exploring RNAi and plasmid- and baculovirus-mediated knockdown and ectopic expression of innexins to investigate their function in vivo in several insects. Together, these approaches will provide fundamental information regarding the roles of innexins/hemichannels/gap junctions in cell biology, as well as examine the relevance of gap junctions to insect control.
Our lab also is interested in a group of symbiotic viruses known as polydnaviruses, which are associated with both parasitoid wasps and lepidopteran hosts of the parasitoids. We use a combination of standard and specific virology and molecular biology techniques to examine the genetic and cellular mechanisms by which the polydnaviruses disrupt lepidopteran physiology, as well as their patterns of evolution.
We currently are searching for a highly-motivated graduate student interested in pursuing a PhD in molecular Entomology or cell biology, to join our lab. All applicants should have a strong GRE score and undergrad GPA, be able to work well in a team or individually, possess basic molecular or cell biology skills and have good English communication skills (oral and written). Research experience in molecular biology is preferred, but not required. Interested applicants should submit a curriculum vitae (including GRE, GPA and TOEFL (if necessary)) and a 1-2 page statement of how a graduate degree in our lab will help you achieve your goals. CV and statement should be submitted to Dr. Matt Turnbull, firstname.lastname@example.org.