- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
That's the title of the next UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology seminar, to be presented Wednesday, Jan. 27 by assistant professor Charissa de Bekker of the University of Central Florida (UCF). The virtual seminar begins qt 4:10 p.m. Access this Google form link to join the seminar on Zoom.
"My lab studies parasites that change the behavior of their hosts," she writes on her website. "Nature harbors quite some bizarre examples of parasites that evolved the ability manipulate. These manipulations range from slightly altered existing behaviors to the establishment of completely novel ones that are not part of the host's regular repertoire."
"One of the most dramatic examples of the latter is that of the zombie ants. Here, a fungal parasite takes control of the behavior of a Carpenter ant, guiding it up the vegetation where it latches on in a final death grip. Working across various disciplines within the broad field of biology we use this parasite-host interaction as a model system to ask the question how a microbe can control an animal's brain to change the behavioral output so precisely. In addition, we know very little about how behavior in general is regulated. Our research will therefore not only inform us about the mechanisms that these parasites use to manipulate their hosts, but ultimately also give an important insight into the regulation of behavior in general."
De Bekker holds a five-year $970,000 National Science Foundation grant to study "parasitic fungi that hijack behaviors of their hosts."
A member of the UCF faculty since 2016, she received three degrees in biology from Utrecht University, The Netherlands: her bachelor's degree in 2004; her master's degree in 2006, and her doctorate in 2011. She specialized in molecular microbiology. She did postdoctoral research at the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics, Department of Entomology, The Pennsylvania State University, from April 2011 to July 2012, and then served as a postdoctoral Marie Curie Fellow and Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellow at Ludwig-Maximilians University, Munich, Germany, before joining UCF. (See lab website)
Agricultural Extension specialist Ian Grettenberger of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology is coordinating the weekly seminars. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Media Coverage of Zombie Ant Research (Partial List):
- Five-Year Grant Will Deepen Research Into ‘Zombie Ants' (COS News, Feb. 26, 2020)
- The Science Behind Zombie Ants (UCF Today, Oct. 21, 2019)
- How a Parasitic Fungus Turns Ants Into 'Zombies' (National Geographic, April 18, 2019)
- The Science of Zombies: Will the Undead Rise? (Phys.Org, Nov. 1, 2019
Read National Public Radio's coverage of Zombie research (Oct. 31, 2019).
Further reading: How the Zombie Fungus Takes Over Ants' Bodies to Control Their Minds (The Atlantic, Nov. 14, 2017
See UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website for list of other seminar speakers for the winter quarter