About Our Lab
In 2014 Dr. Jeremy Herren founded the SymbioVector Lab at the International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology in Nairobi, Kenya.
Symbiovector is more than a fancy scientific-sounding name for our lab, it’s literally what we do! SymbioVector is the combination of the two things that we study: endosymbiosis (the study of organisms living inside of other organisms), and vector-borne disease. Specifically, we are interested in endosymbionts that live within the malaria carrying mosquitoes.
We started out studying spiroplasma, an endosymbiont that is especially well studied in fruit flies. Our goal then was to see if it had a role in the body of the mosquito, however, no matter how many mosquitoes we extracted and sequenced the DNA of, we couldn’t really find much of it! While we looked through mosquito after mosquito, however, we kept running into a fungus which we couldn’t identify.
We would go on to identify this fungus as a member of the genus Microsporidia, an ancient lineage considered by many to be older than the kingdom Fungi itself. We decided that if this fungus was in over 5% of all the insects we were looking at, it probably is important–so we looked closer at it.
Microsporidia MB, the name of our newly discovered organism, was more than just common. Our fungi showed the amazing capability to block the uptake of the malaria parasite into the mosquito.
Our current research focuses on HOW and WHY; we want to know how Microsporidia MB is transmitted from generation to generation and also why it blocks malaria. Our team is working across four countries to try to solve this question, and hopefully, in the coming years, we will be able to find out how to fight this disease.
Meet The Team!
Dr. Jeremy Herren
Head of the Symbiovector Research Team
Since joining icipe in 2014, Jeremy Herren has been leading the development of a novel mosquito symbiont-based transmission blocking strategy for the sustainable control of malaria (SymbioVector Project). It is increasingly being appreciated that symbiotic microbes hold promise for blocking the transmission of malaria. These symbionts can be disseminated through insect populations and by virtue of their vertical transmission (mother to offspring) and present a more sustainable strategy for the control of vector-borne disease transmission than conventional methods. The SymbioVector team have established a pipeline for symbiont discovery and characterization, involving wild-caught mosquitoes having their microbes profiled prior to being challenged with Plasmodium-infected blood from infective donors. The team recently discovered a novel, vertically transmitted symbiont (Microsporidia MB) in Anopheles gambiae with a strong malaria transmission blocking phenotype (https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-16121-y). The SymbioVector team are currently developing a strategy to use Microsporidia MB that involves increasing its population frequency in a stable manner, using affordable and scale-able dissemination methods.
Dr. S. Tullu Bukhari
Tullu is a medical entomologist interested in developing biological control agents for mosquito control such as entomopathogenic fungi and symbionts. Previously, she carried out her research at Wageningen University, The Netherlands and Institute Pasteur, France. This includes studying factors that can increase the efficacy and transmission of biological agents, how the biological agents interact with Plasmodium infection in the mosquitoes and testing the efficacy of agents under field conditions. She is currently overseeing the SymbioVector project at Mbita Campus of icipe, Kenya.
Dr. Joseph Gichuhi
Dr. T. Ogao Onchuru
Dr. Thomas Ogao Onchuru is a postdoctoral fellow in the Symbiovector project under icipe’s Human health theme. Dr. Onchuru holds a PhD in Natural Sciences (Biology) from Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Germany. His research interests are in the areas of mutualistic interactions between important insects and their native microorganisms. His ambition is to investigate the role of microbial symbionts in shaping insect diversity, ecology, and evolution, and explore their potential in controlling medically, veterinary, and agriculturally important insects. Currently, he is investigating transmission characteristics of Microsporidia MB, which we recently showed that it blocks transmission of malaria parasite by anopheles mosquitoes. Furthermore, he is interested in identifying the molecular mechanisms through which the symbiont inhibits transmission of the parasite.