Serap Aksoy, PhD

  • Professor of Epidemiology (Microbial Diseases)

Serap Aksoy, PhD, came to Yale as a postdoctoral fellow in 1982 and worked her way to Professor in 2002. From 2002-2010, she headed the Division of Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases. She serves as editor in Chief of the journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases and chaired both the NIH/NIAID Vector Biology Study Section (2010-2012) and the WHO/TDR, Molecular Entomology BL5 (2008-2012). Dr. Aksoy's lab aims to understand the biology of host-pathogen interactions--in particular in tsetse flies, which transmit African trypanosomes and harbor multiple symbiotic microbes. A graduate of Vassar College (BA) and Columbia University (PhD), Dr. Aksoy has lectured around the world, and maintains ongoing collaborative research programs with the National Livestock Research Institute (NaLIRRI) and Gulu University in Uganda, and Biotechnology Research Institute (BRI) in Kenya. The laboratory at Yale focuses on the development of novel methods to ultimately reduce tsetse populations in the field, or to reduce their ability to transmit disease. Studies in Uganda focus on the epidemiology of Sleeping Sickness disease. Together with BRI and her colleagues at Yale, Dr. Aksoy has been involved in an international training program to expand research capacity in tsetse-transmitted diseases in east Africa. As the EIC of PLOS NTDs, she works to build research and publication capacity for global neglected tropical diseases.

Research interests
Trypanosomiasis, African; Tsetse Flies; Global Health
Research summary

We study the molecular basis of biological complexity that determine host-microbe interactions, with a focus on tsetse flies, insect vectors of the protozoan parasite African trypanosomes. We investigate the molecular aspects of tsetse immunity during parasite transmission with the eventual goal of manipulating these responses to block disease transmission. Tsetse also harbors three maternally transmitted bacterial symbionts, which influence its nutritional and reproductive biology. We characterize the biology of each symbiont using biochemical, genetic, cellular and molecular techniques to understand the evolution and functional significance of each in the context of the dynamic host environment. We developed a paratransgenic approach where we exploit the commensal gut flora to express in the midgut mileu trypanocidal products that can block parasite development. The replacement of natural tsetse populations with the engineered parasite refractory flies can provide a novel approach for control of this devastating vector-borne disease.

Specialized Terms: African trypanosomes; Bacterial symbionts of tsetse flies

Extensive research description
Dr. Aksoy's research aims to understand the biology of host-pathogen interactions; in particular in tsetse flies, which transmit African trypanosomes and harbor multiple symbiotic microbes. Basic studies focus on the immune aspects of trypanosome transmission in tsetse, while the applied studies aim to harness this information to develop biologically sound and novel disease control strategies to interrupt parasite development in the tsetse vector. A second area of research focuses on the molecular and evolutionary basis of symbiosis. The biology of each tsetse symbiont is characterized using biochemical, genomic, genetic, cellular and molecular techniques to understand their functional significance in the context of host ecology.
  • PhD, Columbia University, 1982
  • Toh H, et al. (2006) Massive genome erosion and functional adaptations provide insights into the symbiotic lifestyle of Sodalis glossinidius in the tsetse host. Genome research 16(2):149-156.
  • Weiss BL, Wu Y, Schwank JJ, Tolwinski NS, & Aksoy S (2008) An insect symbiosis is influenced by bacterium-specific polymorphisms in outer-membrane protein A. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 105(39):15088-15093.
  • Wang J, Wu Y, Yang G, & Aksoy S (2009) Interactions between mutualist Wigglesworthia and tsetse peptidoglycan recognition protein (PGRP-LB) influence trypanosome transmission. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 106(29):12133-12138
  • Weiss BL, Wang J, & Aksoy S (2011) Tsetse immune system maturation requires the presence of obligate symbionts in larvae. PLoS biology 9(5):e1000619.
  • Alam U., Medlock J, Brelsfoard C, Pais R, Lohs C, Balmand S, Carnogursky J, Heddi A, Takac P, Galvani A, Aksoy S. Wolbachia symbiont infections induce strong cytoplasmic incompatibility in the tsetse fly Glossina morsitans. PLoS Pathog 2011; 7(12): e1002415
  • Weiss BL, Maltz M, & Aksoy S (2012) Obligate symbionts activate immune system development in the tsetse fly. Journal of immunology 188(7):3395-3403.
  • Wang J & Aksoy S (2012) PGRP-LB is a maternally transmitted immune milk protein that influences symbiosis and parasitism in tsetse's offspring. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 109(26):10552-10557).
  • Rio, RV Symula RE, Wang J, Lohs C, Wu YN, Snyder AK, Bjornson RD, Oshima K, Biehl BS, Perna NT, Hattori M, Aksoy S. (2012) Insight into the transmission biology and species-specific functional capabilities of tsetse (Diptera: Glossinidae) obligate symbiont Wigglesworthia. MBio. 2012 Feb 14;3(1). pii: e00240-11