Associate Professor Insect Virus – Host Interactions
I obtained my MSc degree in Biology at Wageningen University in 2003 (cum laude). During my MSc thesis at the University of Copenhagen (with Dr. Duur Aanen) my interest in host-symbiont interactions was triggered, when studying fungus-growing termites and possible invasive fungi. I performed my PhD research at the University of Amsterdam (Dr. Hans Breeuwer and Prof. Steph Menken; Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics), focusing on reproductive parasites: bacteria that manipulate the reproductive system of their invertebrate host in order to enhance their own transmission. Wolbachia and Cardinium are well-known and widespread reproductive parasites, and I have investigated their impact in spider mites (Bryobia and Tetranychus). My thesis was awarded with The Netherlands Entomological Society (NEV) dissertation price for the best entomological PhD thesis defended at a Dutch University between September 2008 and September 2009. Subsequently, I have worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania (laboratory of Dr. Dustin Brisson) studying the evolution of the infectious microbe Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted by ticks and is the causative agent of Lyme disease. In 2009, I started a postdoc at the Laboratory of Virology, Wageningen University (Prof. Dr. Monique van Oers and Prof. Dr. Just Vlak), focusing on baculoviruses infecting caterpillars. In 2012, I received a VENI-grant of the NWO (Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research) to study the mechanism behind viral manipulation of insect host behaviour. In 2015, I took up a permanent position as Assistant Professor (Tenure Track) in insect virology at Wageningen University. In 2017, I received the Early career award from the Society for Invertebrate Pathology (SIP), recognizing uprising scientists in the field of insect pathology. In 2019, I received an NWO VIDI grant to study covert viruses in insects and in 2020 I got promoted to Associate Professor.
Currently, I am a board member and treasurer of SETE, a section of The Netherlands Entomological Society (NEV) that organizes the yearly Dutch Entomology Day. I serve the Society for Invertebrate Pathology as a member of the Awards & Student Contest Comittee and in 2020 I joined the SIP council as a Trustee.
I am interested in the evolutionary dynamics of host-parasite and other symbiotic interactions, with a focus on interactions between arthropods and micro-organisms. Such symbiotic interactions (comprising mutualism, parasitism and commensalism) are widespread, have evolved independently multiple times, and have a large impact on the ecology and evolution of both host and micro-organism.
Research in our group focuses mainly on baculovirus - insect host interactions. Baculoviruses and insects share a long co-evolutionary history - the ancestral dsDNA viruses evolved together with the first insects. Baculoviruses are the most studied insect viruses, infecting over 700 insect species (mainly of the order Lepidoptera) and are important agents in biocontrol of insect pests. Besides, baculoviruses can be grown in cell culture and are easily manipulated genetically, making them very suitable as expression system for recombinant proteins. (photo: Jan van Lent)
Baculovirus-induced manipulation of insect host behaviour. Many parasites manipulate their host’s behaviour, in order to enhance their spread. Exquisite examples of behavioural manipulation are known, including hypermobility and pre-death climbing behaviour (tree-top disease) in baculovirus-infected caterpillars. However, the underlying molecular mechanisms are poorly understood. We aim at clarifying which parasitic genes modify host behaviour and which pathways in the host transduce the parasite-induced signal into a change in behaviour. Baculoviruses infecting caterpillars provide a unique system to tackle these questions, because baculoviruses can be easily genetically engineered in the laboratory (e.g. creating single gene knockout strains), and because these viruses are known to induce behavioural changes in caterpillars (hypermobility and climbing behaviour/tree top disease). We are currently investigating how viruses invade the insect nervous system to achieve modification of host behaviour. We have written two extensive reviews on parasitic modification of host behaviour and have published several papers in which the molecular mechanism is beginning to be unravelled.
Covert virus infections in insects. It is now discovered that many viruses, including those being pathogenic to insects, frequently occur in a covert (latent or persistent) state. While the pathology of some of these viruses (e.g. baculoviruses) has been extensively studied, the effect of covert infections has received little attention. We try to unravel the genetic and molecular mechanisms underlying covert virus infections in insects and to investigate the impact of such infections throughout the insect’s lifecycle. Covert infections might cause major problems in mass rearings of insects, when such covert infections suddenly develop into overt infections (see our recent review paper and book chapter). Insects are increasingly mass reared, due to a growing demand for insects, e.g. for food and feed, biological pest control, pollination, or waste management. I received an NWO-VIDI grant to perform this research, on which the first PhD candidate recently started.
We will be recruiting soon (mid August till September 2020) for a researcher on covert viruses in insects! Keep an eye on the WUR vacancy site.
Biological control of caterpillars. Together with Astrid Groot (UvA) I will lead a project aimed at developing 'attract and infect' strategies agains the Fall Armyworm in Africa. The Fall Armyworm (FAW) Spodoptera frugiperda, a major pest in staple crops in North and South America, recently invaded Africa (first reported in 2016), where it is currently spreading with incredible speed. Currently, control of this pest insect mainly depends on chemical insecticides. Apart from being very expensive for most small-scale African farmers, these insecticides also pose a genuine health risk, since the knowledge and equipment required for a safe application are mostly lacking. Chemical insecticides negatively affect the environment and non-target species and, in addition, resistance towards these insecticides has already been reported. Therefore, there is a urgent need for safe, sustainable, environmental friendly alternative control measures that can be easily applied in the field by local farmers. Biological control methods that are currently used to control lepidopteran insect pests include pheromone trapping (trapping male moths using female pheromones) and the spraying of baculoviruses (killing caterpillars). However, a combination of both methods has not been explored, and might yield exciting opportunities for biological control, surpassing the effectiveness of each single method. Our project aims to develop a sustainable attract-and-infect strategy for the control of the invading fall army worm in Africa.
Insect Doctors. I am part of the INSECT DOCTORS network, aimed at training young scientists to develop the knowledge, technical skills and tools to diagnose and manage disease problems in commercial insect production systms. INSECT DOCTORS is a European Joint Doctoral Progamme (EJD) funded in the framework of the H2020 Marie Sklodowska-Curie ITN programme. Have a look at the website!
Insect virus group 2017
Jan van Lent - Mieke Bavelaar - Felix Evers- Els Roode - Luuk Reijmers - Ghulam Ali - Just Vlak - Monique van Oers - Hanke Bloksma
Nick van der Hoeven - Bob Boogaard - Marleen Henkens - Vera Ros - Esther van der End - Fengqiao Zhou
50th Annual Meeting of the Society for Invertebrate Pathology (SIP), San Diego, 2017
Early Career Award to Vera Ros (left)
Mauro Martignoni Award to PhD candidate Yue Han (right)
Insect virus group 2016
Fengqiao zhou - Ioana Nicorescu - Methap Yakupoglu - Jan van Lent - Fabiola Ortega Murillo - Monique van Oers - Cindy Spruit - Bob Boogaard - Vera Ros - Yue Han - Hanke Bloksma - Leonardo Assis da Silva