Aug. 24, 2009

CU researcher uses stimulus funds to study infectious disease resistance

Using fruit flies as a model, Brian Lazzaro, Cornell associate professor of entomology, will study connections between the immune system and other physiological processes in determining resistance to infectious disease.

His two-year study, which started Aug. 1, is funded by $736,240 from the National Institutes of Health via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

The grant is one of several at Cornell funded through the ARRA, which supports research projects with an economic development component such as job creation. Lazzaro has used the grant funds to hire a full-time technician and add a graduate student to conduct the research.

Lazzaro says that resistance to infection arises both from immune system activity and from the overall physiological condition of the host at the time of infection. Up to now, the contributions of non-immunological genetic factors to disease resistance have not been well described.

"Using a fruit fly -- Drosophila melanogaster -- as a model, our lab will evaluate the importance of genetic variation in linking immunity to nutritional, energetic and reproductive stress," he said. "This work will contribute to understanding disease resistance and susceptibility."

Although the fruit fly is an insect, its immune and metabolic processes are sufficiently similar to vertebrates and serves as an informative model for human clinical biology, said Lazzaro. "Fruit flies are also representative of other insects too, including agricultural pests and disease vectors of public health relevance," he says.