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2021 Symposium via Zoom

Updated: Apr 25, 2023

We were eager to host a full-blown symposium in 2021, but our plan had to change as coronavirus infection rates rose and new strains emerged. After closely monitoring the situation, we decided to move forward with a symposium, but had to host it completely virtually. Although this forfeited our chances to have lively face-to-face interactions, the virtual format allowed us to invite guests who wouldn’t have been able to attend otherwise, such as leaders and professors from other nations, along with a wider pool of trainees from lab groups outside of the P01 team.

On December 9, 2021, our symposium was attended by about 90 people from around the world, representing roughly 30 different organizations across the globe. Besides the P01 team, we had guests from numerous other universities (Harvard Medical School, Johns Hopkins University, and Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, to name a few) and federal or state organizations (such as USDA and various divisions of NIH), along with international researchers hailing from foreign institutions such as Amsterdam UMC and the German National Reference Center for Borrelia.

The virtual program began with introductory comments from Dr. Utpal Pal (Lead of the P01), Dr. Craig Beyrouty (Dean of the UMD College of Agriculture and Natural Resources), and Dr. Adriana Costero-Saint Denis (NIH NIAID Program Officer), who altogether presented a clear picture of the Program Project, particularly its vision, goals and impacts. Throughout the day, presentations were given by the program’s main scientific projects (Projects 1 – 3) and its Tick Resources Core. The presentations were geared towards providing a summary of the updates and major accomplishments of the ongoing P01 research studies and immediate future plans. These talks were provided by junior scientists from each project guided by the PIs:

From the Pedra laboratory at the University of Maryland Baltimore, the presentation highlighted their studies addressing the molecular mechanisms of how a discrete immune signaling pathway (the immunodeficiency or IMD pathway) drives microbial detection by ticks, particularly the roles of tick cell surface receptors like Croquemort and additional signaling components like p47, which induce robust antimicrobial responses that ultimately control the persistence of tick-transmitted pathogens like B. burgdorferi. The application of new technologies was also discussed, such as RNA-seq and CRISPR screening.

Next, the Fikrig laboratory from Yale covered various topics, highlighting their research on mammalian-derived factors ingested in the tick blood meal, focusing on Adiponectin that interacts with tick receptors, and how this influences Lyme disease. The speakers also presented ongoing research to address how additional tick signaling pathways, like Toll, influence tick immune responses, as well as the use of new technologies to identify targets for future translational research, including early results on anti-tick mRNA vaccines.

The Tick Resources Core, based in the Munderloh and Oliver laboratory at the University of Minnesota, then spoke about their research on the tick immune system and differentially expressed genes, especially in the context of Anaplasma infection.

Finally, the Pal laboratory from the University of Maryland College Park discussed their latest work in cross-species IFNγ signaling, which involves components from the mammalian host and tick vector, as well as “immune cross-talk” involving additional signaling pathways, and their relevance to tick biology and Lyme disease infection. Briefly discussed was the new and improved I. scapularis tick genome led by the Pal lab and partly supported by P01 funding, which was publicly released by NCBI, which promises to serve as an important resource for the tick-borne disease research community.

Besides these project updates, and in our efforts towards outreach activities for a broader audience in the fields of vector biology and infectious diseases, we were very excited to welcome three esteemed guests from renowned institutions. The first guest speaker was Dr. Anthony James from the University of California, Irvine, who spoke about preventive strategies for mosquito-borne infections, particularly malaria, using genetics-based approaches. Dr. Jean-Luc Imler was our second guest; joining us from the University of Strasbourg Institute for Advanced Study in France, he spoke about the Drosophila immune system, and how receptors from the fly influence viral infections. Our final guest, Dr. Norbert Perrimon of Harvard Medical School, provided a keynote presentation about CRISPR-based technology in major vectors and its potential application to tick research, particularly in the context of immune responses against infection and novel prevention methods.

The session was facilitated by the P01’s Administrative Core, with the help of junior trainees from our labs, who moderated the Q-and-A sessions after each talk.

A closed meeting was held the following day for P01 team members only. The Scientific Advisory Board gathered for a private discussion about the project, and their constructive feedback was shared with the PIs to guide our ongoing work. Finally, the group engaged in an open discussion about our collective progress and future plans.

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