New Scholar Award in Global Infectious Disease
David S. Schneider, Ph.D.
Stanford University School of Medicine

Dissecting malaria vector-pathogen interactions using a Drosophila-Plasmodium genetic system

Malaria is a disease that still infects hundreds of millions of people each year and kills more than a million. There is no useful vaccine and the parasite is becoming resistant to all available drugs. New methods are needed to combat this disease.  

Our goal is to understand the factors in an insect-parasite relationship that control the ability of an insect to act as a disease vector. Toward this end, we are using Drosophila melanogaster as a model insect, taking advantage of the genetic and molecular tools available for this organism. We have developed Drosophila as a model vector of Plasmodium, the causative agent of malaria. We will use our Drosophila/Plasmodium model directly, to understand both how the fly supports the growth of Plasmodium and how general and specific immune responses are raised to this parasite. The aim of this proposal is to identify and analyze Drosophila mutants affecting these processes. Ultimately, my goal is to develop methods of blocking transmission of diseases through drugs, vaccines and/or transgenic insect vectors. This work should also be informative about human-parasite interactions because of the conservation of innate immune systems across phyla. 

During the course of the work proposed in this application we will perform a genetic screen to identify Drosophila mutants that have altered abilities to support the growth of Plasmodium. Once these genes are identified we will determine their function with respect to Plasmodium and other infections. We expect to find mutants that decrease parasite growth, perhaps by limiting nutrients and developmental signals. We also expect to find mutants that increase parasite growth, perhaps by blocking the fly’s immune response to the parasite.

Contact Dr. Schneider.