Postdoctoral Research Award 2013
Gaelen Burke, postdoctoral research fellow in entomology, has made major contributions to her field since joining Michael Strand’s lab at UGA. Her professional interests are interdisciplinary, and revolve around the study of insect-microbial interactions. Burke’s research focuses on the mutually beneficial relationship between parasitoid wasps and a class of virus known as polydnaviruses. The wasps incorporate the genome of the virus into their own genome, and when females inject eggs into the body cavity of caterpillars, the virus protects the egg by suppressing the caterpillar’s immune system, which would otherwise attack and destroy the foreign object. Burke’s research focuses on the study of persistent viral infections using these insects as models to understand how viruses persist in populations while circumventing the host’s immune system. While traditional virology research focuses primarily on disease causing viruses, Burke’s research promises to show that persistent viruses are both common and important for understanding animal immunity and disease.