The Fraser laboratory merges research in Molecular Virology and Transgenic Engineering with the particular goals of advancing applications that improve the human condition. A major thrust of the research in this laboratory concerns the utilization of molecular approaches to understanding and manipulating virus genetics in ways that permit beneficial transgenic alteration of the invertebrate hosts of these viruses.
The Home of piggyBac
The Fraser lab has a solid history in the molecular genetics of Baculoviruses, both from the standpoint of their exploitation as expression vectors and as an experimental system for the isolation and analysis of a unique family of Lepidopteran transposons. Our laboratory is responsible for the characterization and development of the piggyBac transposon http://piggybac.bio.nd.edu , a highly versatile transposon vector with wide utility for transgenic engineering in a host of eukaryotic species. This transposon is now facilitating applications of genetic manipulation and gene characterization for a wide range of important invertebrate species that previously had few genetic tools. Important invertebrate species including the economically significant silkworm, Bombyx mori , and human disease vectors including Aedes aegypti and Anopheles stephensi , may now be transgenically engineered with relative facility, allowing the analysis of gene identity, expression, and function.
Research Emphasis in Molecular Virology
The Molecular Virology aspects of our research include exploring genetic strategies for suppressing Flavivirus infections in mosquito cells. Flaviviruses include the disease agents for Dengue Fever, Yellow Fever, and West Nile Fever. These are among the most devastating disease agents of humankind. Our current research effort involves exploring transgenic approaches to effecting intracellular immunity to these viruses. If successful, this approach could be used to eliminate a mosquito’s capacity to transmit a virus pathogen.
Research Emphasis in Transgenic Engineering
The Invertebrate Transgenesis aspects of our research effort involve applications in significant Lepidopteran and Dipteran insects. Among Lepidopteran insects, we seek to improve caterpillars as bioreactors for the production of human therapeutic gene products. This involves various transgenic approaches that serve to alter properties of the insect cell that limit its utility for these purposes, and enhance those properties that are attractive. Research in this direction involves a significant effort to uncover strategies for optimization and controlled expression of genes in these insect systems.
Among the Dipteran insects, our principal effort involves the development of strategies for transgenic modification of mosquito vectors to reduce their capacity for vectoring human disease agents, particularly Flavivirus disease agents like Dengue Fever Virus. While transposon vectors such as piggyBac remain a significant tool in these transgenesis applications, our lab also explores alternative approaches to effecting transgenesis of these mosquito vectors to provide a versatile “toolbox” for functional genomics in these important disease arthropods. While Drosophila melanogaster is not a focus of our research it remains a significant model genetic system that we utilize to validate our transgenesis approaches prior to testing them in other insect systems.