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Marielle Postava-Davignon,
NSF Graduate Fellow

NSF GK-12 Project: Northeastern University
GK-12-PLUS (Partners Linking Urban Schools)
URL: http://www.gk12.neu.edu

Thesis Title: The Evolution and Ecology of Termite Nesting Behavior and Its Impact on Disease Susceptibility
College/University: Northeastern University

Research Advisor: Rebeca Rosengaus

Degree Sought

University Department and/or Lab
Department of Biology / Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology Lab

Research Focus
The research examines nest architecture and disease susceptibility in termites.

Description of Research
The growing field of socioecoimmunology combines aspects of the broader fields of sociobiology, ecology, and immunology. Studies in this field focus on the environmental variations in pathogens and parasites that influence the disease-resistance adaptations of individuals living in groups, their genetic structure, parasite/host dynamics, and social organization.

The research I propose to do examines the role of nest architecture as an adaptation against disease in termite species. My work will focus on the primitive dampwood termite Zootermopsis angusticollis, and two more derived species Nasutitermes acajutlae and Nasutitermes corniger.

For the first part of my project, I will quantify the relative microbial loads within and surrounding nests of the two Nasutitermes species. I hypothesize that microbial loads will vary between habitats as a result of the different abiotic conditions within those habitats.>br>
For the second part of my project, I will examine whether nest architecture affects disease susceptibility in termite species by analyzing the survival rates of termites exposed to the entomopathogenic fungus Metarhizium anisopliae inhabiting five different nest architectures. I hypothesize that nest architecture will be a significant and independent predictor of termite survival.

Finally, I will determine if immunity can be transferred through social contact among nestmates by using SDS PAGE electrophoresis to test for the induction of immune proteins in na´ve individuals interacting with previously immunized nestmates. I hypothesize that immunity can be transferred through social contact among nestmates which could ultimately result in a common immunological signature at the colony level.

Example of how my research is integrated into my GK-12 experience
I have incorporated my research into my classroom in the form of lab activities that study termite behavior. At the beginning of the year, we performed a lab that practiced use of the scientific method by generating hypotheses to explain termite trail following behavior. I introduced some background information on the termites I work with in the form of a PowerPoint presentation.

In Quarter 2, I brought my students to participate in a lab run by the Boston University Gk12 program that looked at how genetics relate to this same termite behavior. I also use termites and other insects as examples whenever possible to help explain important concepts during class. Finally, after introducing my work to my students when we performed the first lab, two of my students requested to work with me in my lab on their science fair projects.

Profile date: August 2007
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