October 4, 2022
We met up with Bryan King to learn more about the research he does as a graduate student at Baylor. A fifth-year Ph.D. Candidate in Biology, Bryan's research focuses largely on the molecular genetics of mosquitos. Read more about Bryan's experience at Baylor and his research. For Bryan, a research environment is more than just a place to study and spend time in the lab—it's a place to connect with your PI and faculty advisors so you are prepared to take on research after earning your degree.
Why did you choose to attend Baylor for Graduate School?
I was previously at a different university doing a Ph.D. before coming to Baylor. The program and the PI that I was working with did not fit well with me as a person, so I resigned. A friend of mine who was in the Biology department put me into contact with Dr. Sim and I immediately was interested in the work and what I could do with it, not just at Baylor but also in the future once I graduated.
What are your research interests?
My research currently focuses on the molecular genetics of mosquito diapause. I am interested in how the genes that regulate diapause are used to increase overwintering survival, but also interested in what happens when those genes are turned off and the negative effects that have on overwinter survival. My current work has shifted a bit away from that to working with the intracellular parasitic bacteria, Wolbachia. My interest in this bacteria focuses on vector control and how we can utilize this bacteria to infect mosquitoes and how it in turn affects the diapause phenotype.
What opportunities or implications stem from your research?
There are a lot of opportunities for this kind of work, and my goal one day is to work for the CDC in vector control. A lot of insects, and especially vectors for disease go through diapause, so studying those insects to better understand how they survive winter and then target those genes so winter survival is drastically decreased would help tremendously in decreasing disease spread. A lot of vector-borne diseases do not have treatments to rid the disease, they just have medication to minimize symptoms, so if we can decrease what is spreading the disease, we can lift some of the burdens on the medical field until proper treatments have been discovered.
What research excites you right now?
The work I am doing really excites me, I get to pretend to be a Jurassic Park scientist daily. But on a serious note, I really enjoy the work I do. I am working out how genes of interest help overwintering survival, and I am working with bacteria that can be used for vector control. Moving forward with the bacterial work is extremely interesting since it has a multitude of potential uses. The bacteria not only constantly evolve with the host, but they are passed from mother to offspring so they can stay in the population forever. The bacteria only infects insects so there is no worry about human health issues, there are implications that it could disrupt diapause due to how it interacts with the host, it can make males of the species sterile if trying to breed with an uninfected female, and the bacteria constantly fights inside the host for resources with any virus that has been taken up making it harder for the viruses to grow and decreasing the chances for disease spread.
How does Baylor help you achieve your research?
I have an amazing PI, Dr. Cheolho Sim, who is extremely supportive of my work and growth as a scientist in an environment set up to help me grow. I have also been given a multitude of opportunities to share my research with students at the university, speak to undergraduate organizations on research, and mentor undergraduates to help them get to the next step, either getting them to medical school or graduate school. I didn't have this opportunity at the last university I was at, and I don't know of many institutions where I myself get to choose the students I mentor.
If you are working on a thesis or dissertation, briefly describe your topic.
During diapause in mosquitoes, stress resistance, cold tolerance, efficient storage, and utilization of energy are crucial for prolonging lifespan and surviving prolonged periods of developmental arrest while maximizing reproductive success once diapause is terminated and development recommences. In the mosquito Culex pipiens, we suggested that glycogen synthase played a critical role in glycogen and lipid storage, oxidor (oxidoreductin like protein) enhanced oxidative stress tolerance and PDZ enhanced actin pre-fortification in muscle tissue to increase cold tolerance. Wolbachia is an obligate intracellular endosymbiotic α-proteobacteria, infecting anywhere from 40-70% of terrestrial arthropod species. Utilizing insect cell culture, we are working on protocols to effectively grow Wolbachia in a cell culture system to be used in the future for research on vector control.
Suppression of glycogen synthase expression reduces glycogen and lipid storage during mosquito overwintering diapause. Bryan King, Shijia Li, Chengyin Liu, Sung Joon Kim, Cheolho Sim 2020.
Suppressed expression of oxidoreductin-like protein, Oxidor, increases follicle degeneration and decreases survival during the overwintering diapause of the mosquito Culex pipiens. Bryan King, Arinze Ikenga, Mazie Larsen, Cheolho Sim 2021.