University of New Hampshire
Mentor: Dr. Jeffrey Foster, Department of Molecular, Cellular, & Bimedical Sciences
Genomic Assessments of Fungi on Bats
White-nose syndrome is an emerging infectious disease of bats in the North America that is caused by the pathogen Pseudogymnoascus destructans. The fungus was first identified in 2006 in a caves near Albany, New York. Originally from Eurasia, the fungus has spread throughout eastern North America, killing millions of bats. The fungus grown when bats are hibernating and when they have a cold skin and weak immune system. This loss have potential widespread ramifications; bats play an essential role in terrestrial ecosystem. In addition, bats regulate insect populations that harm humans and agriculture. Previous research done on P. destructans has helped identify several different factors about this fungus. Studies have shown that there are close relatives of P. destructans present on hibernating bats and cave sediments. Surprisingly, these relatives do not harm bats. P. destructans has may have acquired adaptations that have turned it from a soil microbe into a pathogen that causes this disease. In this study, I will be running ITS qPCR analyses between P. destructans and its close relatives to identify when and where the fungus is present. The ITS (Internal Transcribed Spacer) is a region found in all fungi and differences between the sequences of different samples can be used to assess genetic relationships. Specifically, the ITS is a spacer region of DNA between small and large subunit rRNA genes in the chromosome. ITS is located between 16S and 23S genes. Quantitative PCR (qPCR) is a technology that can be used to precisely measure how much DNA is present in a sample. After running qPCR to confirm the presence of different fungi, I will be using comparative genomics to assess potential adaptations in P. destructans. By comparing the genes of pathogenic and non-pathogenic fungi, I hope to identify what makes it pathogenic. This study will use many computer programs to analyze these gene sequences. Strains of these species have already been collected and are ready to sequence in the lab. The results of this study will help researchers in the future to focus more on the specific genes that makes P. destructans pathogenic and possibly leading to a solution for combating this devastating disease.