Andrew Sommer: Life history impacts on fly-microbe interactions

I am very excited to be able to share with everyone the above video featuring my research on the potential role that Muscidae (Diptera) flies play in the transmission of mastitis- and enteritis-causing bacteria to dairy cows! I encourage everyone to watch the video not only because it is informative, but also because it presents my research in both a fun and exciting way. Science communication is something that is very important to me and I firmly believe that the scientific community at large needs to work harder to ensure that our research can be understood by everyone. It is not enough to just present our findings to experts in our respective fields. Many of the major crises of the near future, including climate change and its numerous public health consequences, require scientific solutions; however, we won’t be able to face these challenges effectively without widespread societal support. If we are serious about solving these problems, it is our responsibility to engage everyone.

Collaborators with the Northwest Mosquito Abatement District and Loyola University collect water from catch basins in the Arlington Heights municipality of Illinois.

My research is not focused exclusively on Muscidae flies living in Wisconsin dairy barns. I also work with excellent collaborators from mosquito abatement districts in Cook County, Illinois to study Culex mosquitoes (Diptera: Culicidae) inhabiting underground wastewater and sewage structures near the Chicago suburbs. I am again here concerned about the ability of pathogenic bacteria to colonize the insect gut and potentially spread disease. By studying both a terrestrial and an aquatic system, I am able to compare how the environment itself shapes interactions between dipteran insects (true flies) and bacteria.

I have actually been working on ecological interactions between these two groups for almost my entire research career. Before joining the MDTP program and the Kerri’s lab, I worked with Peter Newell at the State University of New York at Oswego to understand the genetic basis for mutualism between Acetobacter and Lactobacillus bacteria and how these interactions impact their fruit fly host. My research background may be somewhat different as my undergraduate institution was a small state school with no graduate programs in the biological sciences. This means that I was originally trained in an undergraduate-only lab. Despite this, I was able to publish my research in Applied and Environmental Microbiology as the first author.  I believe this experience continues to shape how I view and approach science. I do not think that being admitted to a graduate program or already having a college degree is a prerequisite for thinking critically and doing high quality scientific research. This is the philosophy I take with me to the lab when I mentor undergraduate students.

I have, of course, a number of interests and hobbies outside of the lab. Most notably I enjoy baking, reading, and generally spending time outdoors.

I am always happy to chat with people about any of the above topics, and be sure to stay tuned for updates on other lab members’ research projects in the future!