I’ve always been fascinated by animals of all shapes and sizes. It wasn’t until I enrolled in a second year organismal physiology course at Western University, that I quickly learned that my passion for animals is actually a passion for animal physiology, and a passion for learning about the beautifully intricate strategies that animals have evolved to survive in their environments. I started my research career as an undergraduate honour’s student in Dr. Brent Sinclair’s lab at Western University, where I investigated the effects of low temperatures on ion and water balance in fall field crickets (Gryllus pennsylvanicus).
After my undergrad, I returned to the Sinclair lab to pursue my PhD, where I am currently studying the physiological mechanisms of insect diapause and cold tolerance – two insect winter survival strategies that are often difficult to tease apart. I do so using the Colorado potato beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata).
These pesty insects originated in Mexico, and have spread throughout North America, Europe, and Asia over the last 100 years. Colorado potato beetles overwinter in diapause as freeze-avoidant adults, where they suppress their metabolism by ~88%, upregulate a suite of heat shock proteins, and have the ability to increase their cold tolerance following a fluctuating thermal regime. I have developed a system to create both “diapausing” and “cold-tolerant” beetles, and use these groups in the lab to disentangle the physiological mechanisms of diapause and cold tolerance.
Some questions that I am trying to answer with my PhD are:
Which molecules, metabolic pathways and expressed genes are shared and differ between diapausing and cold-tolerant beetles?
How do diapausing beetles suppress their metabolic rates during diapause, and what are the implications of this metabolic suppression for their exit from diapause?
What is the role of heat shock proteins in diapause entry, mitigating cellular damage during diapause, and in the ability for beetles to become cold-tolerant?
To answer these questions, I use techniques that span multiple levels of biological organization that include (but are not limited to) RNA seq, GC/LC chromatography-based metabolomics, whole animal and high resolution respirometry, and electron microscopy.