My interest in science is centred on the evolutionary and ecological aspects of sexual selection, host-parasite interactions, and immunity. Over the past years, I have worked extensively on evolutionary and behavioural ecology, particularly on the conflict between individuals or species, whether it be conflicts between host and parasite or between male and female. Sexual reproduction and parasitism have always been the central interests in my life as a biologist. Moreover, it is increasingly being recognised that female responses to sexual conflict and host responses to parasites are not mutually exclusive topics but rather are intimately connected. I am convinced that linking reproduction with host-microbe interactions will give many novel insights into how individuals deal with opportunistic infections and parasites and optimize reproductive investment.
Left) Copulating Bedbugs, top right) The activity of antibacterial substance measured in an immune assay and bottom right) Male reproductive organs.
My current research focuses on sexual conflict in the bedbug Cimex lectularius. While males have control over mating, the genetic contribution of males to the offspring generation is entirely unexplored, as are the mechanisms leading to sperm selection by females. By experimentally separating male and female effects on fertilisation, I want to quantify sperm killing in bed bug females, investigate its mechanism, study competitive fertilisation after copulation inside and outside the supposed cryptic female choice organ, and quantify sperm killing with respect to male and female genotype. Further, I am also interested in the relationship between the reproductive system and immunity, which seem to be tightly linked in bedbugs.
See here my latest publication
Currently, I am also a guest editor for a Research Topic in Frontiers in Insect Science on Effects of multiple stressors on insect health together with Heike Feldhaar and Ben Sadd, Illinois State University
Sexual reproduction is a highly complicated process shaped in part by the need to optimise reproductive investment, which can differ and evolve antagonistically between the sexes. Sexual reproduction is also intimately linked with immunity through a variety of means. Combining these seemingly disparate biological functions has led to the emergence of the new field of reproductive immunity. One striking parallel between reproduction and immunity is the detection of ‘other’. Failure to detect pathogens results in disease. Failure to ignore self causes autoimmunity. Similarly, individuals, as well as gametes, must choose appropriate partners avoiding interspecific mating on one extreme or reproducing with kin to avoid inbreeding, on the other. The relationship between reproduction and immunity is likely affected by the mating system and the degree of sexual conflict. Reproduction and immunity seem connected in three ways by resource trade-offs among life-history traits, by disease reduction due to mate choice of healthy mates and protective genes for the offspring and by mating-induced immunity to reduce infection risk.