FRI Biology Stream

Bugs in Bugs

ecology, entomology, evolution, medicine, molecular biology, microbiology, natural history, nutrition

our research

Our Research

Insects are diverse! There are over a million known insects, 150,000 described species of bees and wasps, and many more that are unstudied. The Bugs in Bugs stream focuses on the bacteria associated with a variety of insects including bees and wasps, flies, beetles, butterflies, and grasshoppers. These insects provide new avenues to discover new relationships between insects and bacteria.

Bugs in Bugs Research Questions

  • What microorganisms live in insects? What do they do? First, we find out which organisms live in the bee/wasp guts. The next step is to work out whether they help or harm their host and how.

  • How does host biology influence the microorganisms? The biology of the host varies a lot, so we want to know if the internal organisms are adapted to their host biology, or if different conditions change their communities.

  • How do the microorganisms interact with each other? Bacteria of different species can compete or complement each other to help their hosts.



Our Strategy

The Bugs in Bugs Stream is broadly interdisciplinary and develops skills relevant for a variety of careers in science. Most research occurs in the lab using molecular and microbiological techniques, but students can undertake research based outdoors working and collecting live insect specimens.

In the Bugs in Bugs Stream, researchers develop skills related to:

  • Molecular Biology: DNA extraction and amplification to identify species and work out the composition of bacterial communities.
  • Bioinformatics & Genomics: Bioinformatic tools and programs to work out what bacterial communities live in insects, and genome annotation of isolated bacteria to work out which genes are present, and their metabolic roles.
  • Culturing & Curating: Bacterial culture, insect curation, and record keeping of data.

Our Impact

Symbiotic microorganisms have major effects on their host nutrition and susceptibility to disease and toxins. In this stream, students explore the gut microbiota and pathogens of insects to understand how they affect the health and function of their hosts. An emphasis is placed on ecologically important insects such as honey bees and other pollinators. These are of current interest due to their roles in agricultural and natural systems and to their widespread population declines. We focus on local Texan bees and wasps because they are abundant and biologically diverse. Different species can have different diets, social structure, and nesting habitats. All these can influence the microbes they associate with, as well as many other ecological factors.

Our Team

Profile image of Jo-anne Holley

Jo-anne Holley

  • Associate Professor of Practice
  • STEM Education Fellow
  • Freshman Research Initiative
  • Integrative Biology
Profile image of Nancy Moran

Nancy Moran

  • Professor
  • Warren J. and Viola Mae Raymer Chair
  • Integrative Biology
  • Biodiversity Center


Course Credit
Research Outcomes