Pathology, host defense and population of Drosophila innubial Nudivirus

Prof. Robert Unckless, Department of Molecular Biosciences
University of Kansas

Project date: 2016

DNA viruses are the infectious agents causing innumerable human diseases. Until now, scientists have lacked a natural model of DNA virus infection in Drosophila. The Drosophila innubila nudivirus (DiNV) and other nudiviruses are related to baculoviruses which primarily infect insects. They are large, both in size and gene content (>100 genes) and tend to be highly virulent. DiNV was detected in about 40% of wild-caught individuals and infected individuals showed significantly reduced lifespan and fecundity. Our immediate goal is to establish DiNV as a model system for the study of DNA virus infection in Drosophila. The long term goal is to understand pathology, host immune defense and host-virus co-evolution using the DiNV system. Our main objective is to gain enough knowledge about these aspects of the DiNV system to develop important, testable hypotheses for further research. Though the purpose of the grant is largely exploratory, we hypothesize that host defense against DiNV will be quite different from that of RNA virus infections and that we will uncover previously unknown pathways in the innate immune response. Our approach is to establish the virus in cell culture, then perform experimental infections to better understand pathology, virulence and host immune response. We will also study host-virus co-evolution in natural populations using the natural replication found in the Sky Island populations in the desert Southwest.

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