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Katharina Dittmar

SUNY at Buffalo
Cooke Hall 109
Buffalo, NY 14260


Taxa Studied: Invertebrate Animals
Techniques Employed: Quantitative PCR (qPCR), Bioinformatics/Sequence Analysis, In Situ Hybridization, Antibody Staining, Sectioning for Histology, Sectioning for Electron Microscopy, Scanning Electron Microscopy, Confocal Microscopy
Research Description: I am building a project on the phenomenon of "sensory compensation" within the visual-olfactory paradigm. In other words, it is commonly thought that in an evolutionary trajectory of reduction of visual features, chemical (olfactory) sensory capabilities are overdeveloped in all descendants to compensate for that loss (Fig. 3). While this may make intuitive sense, so far only anecdotal evidence has been gathered supporting this notion. I will explore fundamental mechanistic and behavioral aspects of this hypothesis on the Hippoboscoidea (Diptera, includes the bat flies). The Hippoboscoidea are a pertinent choice, because they experienced an evolutionary transition from free-living predator to obligate blood-feeding parasite. Additionally, they are a monophyletic clade (i.e. one common ancestor) showing a range of visual phenotypes among its extant members of three subclades (Glossinidae, Hippoboscidae, and bat flies [Streblidae+Nycteribiidae]). These phenotypes range from the typical insect compound eye through various successive stages of reduction, culminating in complete eye loss. Furthermore, from my own current and previous research, the evolutionary history of this group is known, so the direction of transitions can be inferred, and members of each subclade cohabit specific ecological settings (with presumably similar odorant landscapes). Goals of this research are to characterize hippoboscoid odor receptor (OR) gene repertoire, to characterize the topology of OR expression, and to assess the quality of and correlation between behavioral responses by visual and olfactory assays. In the paradigm of reduction it is conceivable that subsets of ORs have been silenced or lost, whereas others were retained or underwent species specific radiations. Thus, studying these changes across visual phenotypes may reveal adaptive patterns. OR gene expression will highlight subpopulations of olfactory sensory neurons, and allow for quantitative and spatial comparison between visual phenotypes, and evolutionary subclades.
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Willing to Host Undergraduates: YES
Actively Seeking Undergraduates: YES
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