Interdisciplinary Life Science - PULSe Great research is a matter of choice

Brittany Peterson

Brittany Peterson Profile Picture
Training Group:

Entomology

Mentor / Lab:

Mike Scharf

Specific Research Area / Project:

Termite symbiosis and collaborative physiology

Undergraduate Institution:

Western Illinois University


Research Profile:

I’m fascinated by the way organisms work together. This interest has led me to study the interactions between insects and their bacterial symbionts. These two hyper diverse groups of organisms collaborate in a whole host of ways from pathogen defense to nutrient provisioning. Cooperative efforts between insects and microbes have facilitated a wide range of adaptations and niche expansions in insects.

For my dissertation research, I have focused on the relationship between termites and their gut symbionts. Termites are an especially interesting study system because of their wood diet, social living, and complex symbiotic community. My goal has been to help illustrate how symbionts collaborate with their hosts to accomplish basic tasks like digestion and pathogen defense. I have shown that the presence of a diverse gut bacterial community increases the efficiency of wood digestion. Additionally, I have evidence that a reduction in symbiont load increases termite susceptibility to fungal pathogens. Now, I’m using next-generation sequencing and bioinformatic analyses to identify specific mechanisms of these symbiont-augmented physiologies.


Brittany Peterson Research Picture

About Me:

Personally, the best part of being a member of an interdisciplinary program like PULSe is that I can never walk into a room on campus and be a stranger. Whether I’m grabbing coffee in the union or popping in on another department’s weekly seminar, there’s always a friendly face in the room. Being a member of PULSe means that I have friends and colleagues in almost every college on campus, in over a dozen departments. This sense of community is both empowering and reassuring. Knowing that I have this wealth of knowledge and experience in my network comes in handy every single day. If I’m curious about a technique, I probably know someone who does it. If I am wondering about the working environment at a potential employer, I probably have a contact at that company or university.


Awards:

  • Monsanto Student Travel Award, 63rd Annual Entomological Society of America Meeting (Minneapolis, MN.) - November 2015
  • William L. Brehm Memorial Scholarship, Purdue University Department of Entomology (West Lafayette, IN.) - August 2015
  • Purdue Graduate Student Government Professional Grant, Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN.) - May 2015
  • Teaching Academy Graduate Teaching Award, Purdue University Teaching Academy (West Lafayette, IN.) - April 2015
  • 1st Place PULSe 5-Minute Thesis Competition Award, Purdue University Life Science Interdisciplinary Program (West Lafayette, IN.) - January 2015
  • Pest Control Magazine Scholarship, Purdue University Department of Entomology (West Lafayette, IN.) - January 2015
  • Monsanto Research Grant, 62nd Annual Entomological Society of America Meeting (Portland, OR.) - November 2014
  • PULSe Travel Grant, Purdue University Life Science Interdisciplinary Program (West Lafayette, IN.) - November 2014
  • 3rd Place Ph.D. Student Talk, 2014 Ohio Valley Entomological Association Meeting (Columbus, OH.) - October 2014
  • 1st Place Poster Award, #Science: Effective Interdisciplinary Communication (West Lafayette, IN.) - September 2014
  • Best Poster Award, 16th Annual Donald Danforth Plant Science Center Fall Symposium (St. Louis, MO.) - September 2014
  • Indiana Academy of Science Senior Research Grant, Indiana Academy of Sciences (Indianapolis, IN.) - May 2014
  • Purdue Graduate Student Government Travel Grant, Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN.) - April 2014
  • Graduate Women in Science Travel Grant, Purdue University Science Diversity Office (West Lafayette, IN.) - April 2014
  • Lillian and Alex Feir Graduate Student Travel Grant, 61st Annual Entomological Society of America Meeting (Austin, TX.) - November 2013
  • Oser Family Scholarship, Purdue University Department of Entomology (West Lafayette, IN.) - August 2013
  • Purdue Graduate Student Government Travel Grant , Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN.) - April 2013
  • PULSe Travel Grant, Purdue University Life Science Interdisciplinary Program (West Lafayette, IN.) - November 2012

Publications:

  • Benoit, JB, Adelman, ZN … Peterson, BF (33/80)… Schal, C, and Richards, S. 2015. Unique features of the bed bug, a global human ectoparasite, identified through genome sequencing. Nature Communications. In press.
  • Peterson, BF, Stewart, HL, and Scharf, ME, 2015. Quantifying symbiotic contributions to lower termite digestion using antimicrobial compounds. Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology 59, 80-88.
  • Sen, R, Raychoudhury, R, Cai, Y, Sun, Y, Ulrike-Lietze, V, Peterson, BF, Scharf, ME, and Boucias, DG. 2015. Molecular signatures of nicotinoid-pathogen synergy in the termite gut. PLOS ONE 10, e0123391.
  • Zhao, C, Escalante, LN … Peterson, BF (46/69) … Stuart, JJ, and Richards, S, 2015. A massive expansion of effector genes underlies gall-formation in the wheat pest Mayetiola destructor. Current Biology 25, 1-8.

Presentations:

  • Unraveling tri-partite symbiosis in the termite gut with the goal of improved biomass-to-biofuel processing (Member Symposium: Horizons in the Field of Symbiosis; Entomological Society of America 62nd Annual Meeting, Portland, OR)
  • A student’s perspective on graduate training. (Member Symposium: Significance of Science and Entomology Literacy in Graduate Student Training; National Conference on Urban Entomology 2014 Meeting, San Antonio, TX)
  • Understanding the Holobiont: Importance of symbiotic bacteria in termite digestion (PULSe Seminar Series; Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN)
  • Pathogen-specific immune responses from symbionts in a subterranean termite, Reticulitermes flavipes (Kollar) (Student 10-Minute Paper Competition; Entomological Society of America 63rd Annual Meeting, Minneapolis, MN)
  • Understanding bacterial contributions to termite nutritional immunity using the Reticulitermes flavipes holobiont as a model (PULSe 5-Minute Thesis Competition; Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN)
  • Investigating symbiont-mediated protection in termites (Student 10-Minute Paper Competition; Entomological Society of America 62nd Annual Meeting, Portland, OR)
  • Investigating symbiont-mediated protection in termites (Ph.D. Student Presentation Competition; 2014 Ohio Valley Entomological Association Meeting, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH)
  • The importance of symbiotic, prokaryotic groups in termite digestion of lignocellulose (Student 10-Minute Paper Competition; Entomological Society of America 61st Annual Meeting, Austin, TX)
  • A Tripartite Termite-Protozoa-Bacteria Symbiosis: Impact of different endosymbiotic groups on Reticulitermes flavipes lignocellulose digestion (Student 10-Minute Paper Competition; Entomological Society of America 60th Annual Meeting, Knoxville, TN)
  • Specificity and binding of whitefly bacterial endosymbiont GroEL proteins to Squash Leaf Curl Virus coat protein affects SLCV transmission to host plants by their whitefly vector Bemisia tabaci (Biology Graduate Research Symposium; Western Illinois University, Macomb, IL)
  • The role of whitefly bacterial endosymbiont GroEL proteins in the transmissibility of Squash Leaf Curl Virus (Student 10-Minute Paper Competition; Entomological Society of America 58th Annual Meeting, San Diego, CA)
  • A metatranscriptomic approach aimed at understanding bacterial roles in the termite holobiont (Physiology, Biochemistry, & Toxicology Poster Session; Entomological Society of America 63rd Annual Meeting, Minneapolis, MN)
  • Termite Friends & Foes: Understanding how symbiotic microbes contribute to pathogen defense in a subterranean termite (130th Annual Meeting of the Indiana Academy of Sciences, Indianapolis, IN)
  • The importance of symbiotic, prokaryotic groups in termite digestion of lignocellulose (16th Annual Fall Symposium: The Macro-Influence of Microorganisms, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, St. Louis, MO)
  • Termite Lignocellulose Digestion: A product of tripartite symbiosis (2014 Office of Interdisciplinary Graduate Programs Spring Reception, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN)
  • Understanding the importance of the microbiome in the nutritional immunology of a pest termite (2013 Office of Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies Spring Reception, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN)

Leadership:

  • Founding Member and PR/Social Media Chair, Purdue Grad Women in Agriculture (West Lafayette, IN.) - June 2015 - Present
  • Graduate Student Forum Chair, Entomology Graduate Organization (West Lafayette, IN.) - March 2014-Present
  • Graduate Women in Science Program Leadership Team Member, Purdue University Science Diversity Office (West Lafayette, IN.) - March 2013 - May 2015
  • President, PULSe Graduate Student Organization (West Lafayette, IN.) - May 2013 - April 2014
  • Journal Club Chair, Entomology Graduate Organization (West Lafayette, IN.) - January - December 2013
  • Activity Coordinator, PULSe Graduate Student Organization (West Lafayette, IN.) - May 2012 - April 2013
  • PULSe Science Booth Volunteer, Purdue University Spring Fest (West Lafayette, IN.) - April 2012, 2013, & 2014
  • Science in Schools Volunteer, Burnett Creek Elementary School (West Lafayette, IN.) - September 2011-April 2014

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