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  1. Abstract

    The unprecedented rise in the number of new and emerging infectious diseases in the last quarter century poses direct threats to human and wildlife health. The introduction to the Hawaiian archipelago of Plasmodium relictum and the mosquito vector that transmits the parasite has led to dramatic losses in endemic Hawaiian forest bird species. Understanding how mechanisms of disease immunity to avian malaria may evolve is critical as climate change facilitates increased disease transmission to high elevation habitats where malaria transmission has historically been low and the majority of the remaining extant Hawaiian forest bird species now reside. Here, we compare the transcriptomic profiles of highly susceptible Hawai‘i ‘amakihi (Chlorodrepanis virens) experimentally infected with P. relictum to those of uninfected control birds from a naïve high elevation population. We examined changes in gene expression profiles at different stages of infection to provide an in-depth characterization of the molecular pathways contributing to survival or mortality in these birds. We show that the timing and magnitude of the innate and adaptive immune response differed substantially between individuals that survived and those that succumbed to infection, and likely contributed to the observed variation in survival. These results lay the foundation for developing gene-based conservation strategies for Hawaiian honeycreepers by identifying candidate genes and cellular pathways involved in the pathogen response that correlate with a bird’s ability to recover from malaria infection.

     
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  2. Abstract Background

    Plasmodiumparasites that cause bird malaria occur in all continents except Antarctica and are primarily transmitted by mosquitoes in the genusCulex.Culex quinquefasciatus, the mosquito vector of avian malaria in Hawaiʻi, became established in the islands in the 1820s. While the deadly effects of malaria on endemic bird species have been documented for many decades, vector-parasite interactions in avian malaria systems are relatively understudied.

    Methods

    To evaluate the gene expression response of mosquitoes exposed to aPlasmodiuminfection intensity known to occur naturally in Hawaiʻi, offspring of wild-collected HawaiianCx. quinquefasciatuswere fed on a domestic canary infected with a fresh isolate ofPlasmodium relictumGRW4 from a wild-caught Hawaiian honeycreeper. Control mosquitoes were fed on an uninfected canary. Transcriptomes of five infected and three uninfected individual mosquitoes were sequenced at each of three stages of the parasite life cycle: 24 h post feeding (hpf) during ookinete invasion; 5 days post feeding (dpf) when oocysts are developing; 10 dpf when sporozoites are released and invade the salivary glands.

    Results

    Differential gene expression analyses showed that during ookinete invasion (24 hpf), genes related to oxidoreductase activity and galactose catabolism had lower expression levels in infected mosquitoes compared to controls. Oocyst development (5 dpf) was associated with reduced expression of a gene with a predicted innate immune function. At 10 dpf, infected mosquitoes had reduced expression levels of a serine protease inhibitor, and further studies should assess its role as aPlasmodiumagonist inC. quinquefasciatus. Overall, the differential gene expression response of HawaiianCulexexposed to aPlasmodiuminfection intensity known to occur naturally in Hawaiʻi was low, but more pronounced during ookinete invasion.

    Conclusions

    This is the first analysis of the transcriptional responses of vectors to malaria parasites in non-mammalian systems. Interestingly, few similarities were found between the response ofCulexinfected with a birdPlasmodiumand those reported inAnophelesinfected with humanPlasmodium. The relatively small transcriptional changes observed in mosquito genes related to immune response and nutrient metabolism support conclusions of low fitness costs often documented in experimental challenges ofCulexwith avianPlasmodium.

     
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  3. Shortly after birth, mammals are colonized by a multitude of microbes derived from the mother and the environment. Studies in model organisms have demonstrated that the structure and composition of the gut microbiome of offspring steadily mature with increasing diversity during nursing and weaning (Sommer & Bäckhed, 2013). This period of microbiome assembly is critical for young mammals because the gut microbes they acquire will help train their immune system (Lathrop et al., 2011) with potential long‐lasting effects on their health (Cox et al., 2014). In an article in this issue ofMolecular Ecology, Stoffel et al. (2020) investigated the gut microbiota of northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris) during a key developmental window. A month after giving birth, elephant seal mothers stop nursing their pups and return to the sea. As a consequence, their pups go from a diet of milk rich in fat to abruptly enter a post weaning fasting period which lasts for about two months while they remain with the colony. This particular life‐history trait therefore offered the authors a unique and exciting opportunity to evaluate intrinsic factors contributing to gut microbiota development in a wild marine mammal.

     
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  4. null (Ed.)
    Marine multicellular organisms host a diverse collection of bacteria, archaea, microbial eukaryotes, and viruses that form their microbiome. Such host-associated microbes can significantly influence the host’s physiological capacities; however, the identity and functional role(s) of key members of the microbiome (“core microbiome”) in most marine hosts coexisting in natural settings remain obscure. Also unclear is how dynamic interactions between hosts and the immense standing pool of microbial genetic variation will affect marine ecosystems’ capacity to adjust to environmental changes. Here, we argue that significantly advancing our understanding of how host-associated microbes shape marine hosts’ plastic and adaptive responses to environmental change requires (i) recognizing that individual host–microbe systems do not exist in an ecological or evolutionary vacuum and (ii) expanding the field toward long-term, multidisciplinary research on entire communities of hosts and microbes. Natural experiments, such as time-calibrated geological events associated with well-characterized environmental gradients, provide unique ecological and evolutionary contexts to address this challenge. We focus here particularly on mutualistic interactions between hosts and microbes, but note that many of the same lessons and approaches would apply to other types of interactions. 
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  5. Abstract

    Of the estimated 55 Hawaiian honeycreepers (subfamily Carduelinae) only 17 species remain, nine of which the International Union for Conservation of Nature considers endangered. Among the most pressing threats to honeycreeper survival is avian malaria, caused by the introduced blood parasitePlasmodium relictum, which is increasing in distribution in Hawaiʻi as a result of climate change. Preventing further honeycreeper decline will require innovative conservation strategies that confront malaria from multiple angles. Research on mammals has revealed strong connections between gut microbiome composition and malaria susceptibility, illuminating a potential novel approach to malaria control through the manipulation of gut microbiota. One honeycreeper species, Hawaiʻi ʻamakihi (Chlorodrepanis virens), persists in areas of high malaria prevalence, indicating they have acquired some level of immunity. To investigate if avian host‐specific microbes may be associated with malaria survival, we characterized cloacal microbiomes and malaria infection for 174 ʻamakihi and 172 malaria‐resistant warbling white‐eyes (Zosterops japonicus) from Hawaiʻi Island using 16S rRNA gene metabarcoding and quantitative polymerase chain reaction. Neither microbial alpha nor beta diversity covaried with infection, but 149 microbes showed positive associations with malaria survivors. Among these wereEscherichiaandLactobacillusspp., which appear to mitigate malaria severity in mammalian hosts, revealing promising candidates for future probiotic research for augmenting malaria immunity in sensitive endangered species.

     
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  6. Abstract

    The malaria parasitePlasmodium relictum(lineage GRW4) was introduced less than a century ago to the native avifauna of Hawaiʻi, where it has since caused major declines of endemic bird populations. One of the native bird species that is frequently infected with GRW4 is the Hawaiʻi ʻamakihi (Chlorodrepanis virens). To achieve a better understanding of the transcriptional activities of this virulent parasite, we performed a controlled challenge experiment of 15 ʻamakihi that were infected with GRW4. Blood samples containing malaria parasites were collected at two time points (intermediate and peak infection stages) from host individuals that were either experimentally infected by mosquitoes or inoculated with infected blood. We then used RNA sequencing to assemble a high‐quality blood transcriptome ofP. relictumGRW4, allowing us to quantify parasite expression levels inside individual birds. We found few significant differences (one to two transcripts) in GRW4 expression levels between host infection stages and between inoculation methods. However, 36 transcripts showed differential expression levels among all host individuals, indicating a potential presence of host‐specific gene regulation across hosts. To reduce the extinction risk of the remaining native bird species in Hawaiʻi, genetic resources of the localPlasmodiumlineage are needed to enable further molecular characterization of this parasite. Our newly built Hawaiian GRW4 transcriptome assembly, together with analyses of the parasite's transcriptional activities inside the blood of Hawaiʻi ʻamakihi, can provide us with important knowledge on how to combat this deadly avian disease in the future.

     
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