Symbioses in termites
Our lab is working as part of a NSF-funded EFRI (Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation) group to study signaling and the dynamics of the symbiotic gut community in the Northeastern termite Reticulitermes flavipes. The community under study consists of bacteria, archaea and protists. These organisms exist symbiotically within the termite gut, and together with the termite convert wood to fuel (acetate). We think the capabilities of the termite depend on the composition, spatial distribution and structure of the community in its gut and we think that the community is regulated through a complex signaling network composed of cell-cell contact dependent signaling and intercellular chemical signaling. We are trying to replicate microscale physical and chemical features of a lower termite gut using molecular biology and engineered, microfluidic microhabitats. The work under way right now focuses on:

•Metagenomics: Used to evaluate the gut community composition of R. flavipes and the genes it expresses.
•Signaling: We are studying cell-cell communication that takes place when community members come in contact with each other
•Modeling: We are carrying out mathematical analysis to determine signaling network structure and modulate functionality.
•Engineering: We are developing a microfluidic culture array mimicking the microhabitat of the R. flavipes gut allowing physicochemical control and real time monitoring.
•Integration: Ultimately we expect to establish, maintain, and control a functional termite microbiome in vitro.

The group of labs working on this project: Dr. Daniel Gage, Dr. Joerg Graf, Dr. Jared Leadbetter, Dr. William Mustain, Dr. Ken Noll, Dr. Leslie Shor and Dr. Ranjan Srivastava