New paper: Butterflies don’t need bacteria for survival and development

Kruttika’s work testing the impact of butterfly caterpillar microbiomes on growth and survival is published! This was a major collaborative effort with Krushnamegh Kunte, and very new kind of work for our lab. The results were puzzling because unlike patterns from other insects, butterflies seem to be just fine without their bacteria. But in conjunction with Rittik and Ashwin’s recent results with dragonflies, it seems that we’ve uncovered one end of the spectrum of host-microbe interactions. The end that spells “meh!” rather than “I need you”. Here’s a cartoon summary of the work by Kruttika and Shreya. Also read a lay summary here; or read the paper for more details!

GutMicrobes_Comic_Phanikar&Vichare_small

Summer conferences, 2018 edition

We have another fun summer conference season lined up this year; as usual, most lab members have received travel awards. Come hear about our work if you happen to be at these meetings!

Mrudula, Kruttika, Laasya, Saurabh, Joshua and I will be at the SMBE meeting in Yokohama, Japan, starting 8 July. We’re all super excited that Mrudula was chosen as a Fitch award finalist this year, with the added perk that SMBE will cover her trip. Kruttika also has a registration award from SMBE, and an Infosys travel award from NCBS. This should be an especially fun meeting as we celebrate 50 years of the Neutral Theory of molecular evolution.

Around July end, Pratibha will attend her first international meeting abroad: the Gordon Research Conference and seminar on C1 metabolism in Maine, USA. She will be supported by a travel award from the Dept of Science and Technology (DST, India).

Finally, at the end of August, Mrudula and Vrinda will join me at the 2nd Joint Evolution meeting in Montpellier, France. They both have travel grants from the SSE. This promises to be a crazy gathering of evolutionary biologists and we’re looking forward to it!

Kruttika wins award for talk

Kruttika_BoB_awardCongratulations to Kruttika for winning the runner-up prize for best student talk at the Biology of Butterflies meeting! She spoke about finding a new example of Wolbachia bacteria distorting the sex ratio of a butterfly.

Picture: Kruttika receiving her award from Naomi Pierce.

Gaurav describes new ant species

While collecting ants for his MSc thesis project on ant communities in the Andaman Islands, Gaurav Agavekar found two species of ants from the genus Tetramorium that turned out to be new to science. Along with Evan Economo’s lab at OIST Japan, he recently described these species in a paper in PeerJ. The new species – T. krishnani and T. jarawa – are named in honor of the late Prof KS Krishnan (NCBS), and the indigenous Jarawa people of the Andaman Islands. Read more about the work here.

Update, Feb 2018: Gaurav’s work is covered in an article on Mongabay India.

Aparna wins award at SPEEC-Up 2017

SPEEC-Up 2017 was the first iteration of what we hope will be an annual 3-minute talk competition for students of ecology, evolution and conservation in Bangalore. The event was a lot of fun, and a great way to get introduced to a wide range of work from our neighbours. I am truly happy to have had a chance to listen to so many cool talks.

We had three competitors from the lab- Kruttika, Aparna and Rittik all gave great talks about their respective work with insect gut microbes. We’re very happy that Aparna won a runner-up prize for her talk on beetle gut microbes! Here she is, accepting her award (with joint winner Vignesh).

Aparna_SpeecUp

New paper from the lab

Imroze and Arun’s paper describing immunosenescence in flour beetles will be out in the January 2016 issue of the Journal of Animal Ecology! You can find the paper here.

Here’s a brief summary of the work described in the paper. In many animals, immune function decreases with age so that older animals are more likely to die from infections. We found that this pattern is also true for flour beetles (Tribolium castaneum): older beetles are more susceptible to infection by Bacillus thuringiensis. Oddly though, individual components of innate immune function (such as phenoloxidase activity) did not decrease with age. This mismatch could arise due to tradeoffs with other fitness components (e.g. fecundity or  external antibacterial secretions). If young beetles invested in other aspects of fitness, they may not be able to invest more in immune function, and hence the levels of innate immune components may be lower than optimal. However, we did not find evidence for such a tradeoff. Another possibility is other factors affecting immune function end up muddying the expected relationship between immune components and age. Indeed, we found that a beetle’s sex and mating status also affect its immune function, and complex interactions between these factors determine immune function. The molecular mechanisms mediating these effects remain unclear and it is likely that we are missing other important factors that alter immune function. However, our work shows that a deeper understanding of life history, tradeoffs and fitness is necessary to understand how and why animals become more susceptible to infections as they age.

Congratulations, Arun!

A few months ago Arun turned in his Master’s thesis to Bangalore University. At long last, he’s received his Master’s degree and has done really well. For his thesis project, Arun quantified the competitive ability of different Tribolium castaneum populations as well as their ability to resist bacterial pathogens. Arun continues to work on these projects with us and is now an expert in various ways of poking beetles.