Evolutionary Genomics and Microbiome research
Read more on the Engel lab webpage.
Our lab studies functional and evolutionary aspects of microbial symbiosis in animal guts. Specifically, we focus on the gut microbiota of honey bees. We want to address general questions of gut microbiology and understand the role of the microbiota for bee health.
Gut microbial communities are important determinants of animal and human health. Their complex composition displays a formidable challenge for studying microbiota-host interactions in the gut. Simple model systems can assist the discovery of general principles of gut microbiology relevant to human health. The honey bee represents such a model, because its gut microbiota is composed of a small number of bacterial species, which are experimentally amenable.
These bacteria have neither been found in the environment nor in related solitary bee species. However, in the gut of adult honey bees, they are consistently present and highly abundant. This suggests that these bacteria have long-standing evolutionary associations with their host and likely play important symbiotic roles. Characterization of the interactions between microbiota and host will contribute to a better understanding of factors influencing bee health. This is of broad interest due to the ecological and economical importance of honey bees and the recently reported bee population declines.
We apply experimental and computational approaches to characterize symbiotic relationships of bee gut bacteria with each other and with the host. In addition, we study evolutionary aspects of the bee gut microbiota using microbial community analyses and comparative genomics.
Our current research focuses on:
1. The impact of gut bacteria on bee health.
2. The characterization host phenotypes induced by bee gut bacteria.
3. The characterization of bacterial factors involved in symbiosis in the gut.
4. The assessment of genomic changes associated with bacterial diversification in the gut microbiota.