Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

About the PNAS Member Editor
Name Besansky, Nora J.
Location University of Notre Dame
Primary Field Animal, Nutritional and Applied Microbial Sciences
Secondary Field Evolutionary Biology
 Election Citation
Besansky documented massive interspecific gene flow into genomes of the major malaria vectors in Africa, contributing a deeper understanding of the origins of vectorial capacity.
 Research Interests
Genomic research in our laboratory is motivated by an enduring mystery: What makes a good malaria vector? Of the several thousand mosquito species, only Anopheles mosquitoes transmit human malaria, and of the several dozen primary anopheline malaria vectors globally, it is the pan-African species that excel: Why? Most intriguing to us is the fact that nearly every primary malaria vector belongs to its own independent species complex. These complexes are clusters of closely related and morphologically indistinguishable species that nevertheless play profoundly different roles in disease transmission - from primary vector to non-vector. This suggests that the evolutionary transition from non-vector to vector can happen rapidly, and that it has happened repeatedly across Anopheles mosquito diversification. Primary vectors tend to be geographically widespread, locally abundant, ecologically flexible, long-lived, and anthropophilic relative to their non-vector counterparts. Using a variety of genomic approaches including genotyping arrays, population pool sequencing along an environmental gradient, GWAS, systems genetics, amplicon- and whole genome sequencing, our studies suggest that chromosomal inversion polymorphism and genetic introgression are properties associated with primary vectors that facilitate local adaptation, increase ecological flexibility, and enhance vectorial capacity.

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