Telephone: 01413304769

Email: l.hernandez-castro.1@research.gla.ac.uk

Research Summary

Chagas disease affects among the poorest, approximately 7 million, people, mainly in Latin America. It is caused by the protozoan parasite, Trypanosoma cruzi, and transmitted mainly after triatomine, kissing bug, post-bite faecal contamination. Although domicile vector eradication remains the mainstay of Chagas disease control, its effectiveness is being jeopardised due to recolonization of households by sylvatic triatomines. In this context, my research focuses on understanding what is driving triatomine population dynamics such as dispersal and migration using Rhodnius ecuadoriensis in southern Ecuador, Loja province, as a model.

To accomplish this, I am using two powerful tools: genome-wide high-throughput sequencing (2b-RADseq) and high-resolution GIS data; for investigating whether landscape heterogeneity is driving R. ecuadoriensis genomic structure in Ecuador. My subsequent aim is building a model that simulates triatomine dispersal at community and regional level that accounts for landscape arrangement, spatial distribution and genomic differentiation of triatomine populations.

Our 2b-RAD genotyping approach indicates complex genomic differentiation processes are happening in southern Ecuador and we are investigating further by obtaining genomic information from 360 R. ecuadoriensis samples across the region. We will identify spatial genomic patterns using conventional genetic analysis (AMOVA, pairwise FST, and Bayesian clustering) followed by more sophisticated dispersal route analysis (least-cost paths, circuit theory, network analysis) to correlate the genetic patterns to several hypotheses of landscape functional connectivity. Integrating spatial and genomic data to entomological and epidemiological information collected in Loja for the last 13 years could be translated into a model of triatomine population dispersal that can be used for simulating Chagas disease transmission dynamics and the impact of intervention measures.

We expect our approach to be a powerful tool in the hands of medical entomologist for studying other important Chagas disease vector populations or even more, different vector-borne disease systems.

Publications

  • Hernandez-Castro LE, Paterno M, Villacís AG, Andersson B, Costales JA, et al. (2017) 2b-RAD genotyping for population genomic studies of Chagas disease vectors: Rhodnius ecuadoriensis in Ecuador. PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases 11(7): e0005710. doi.10.1371/journal.pntd.0005710.

Supervisors

    Grants

    • University of Glasgow Jim Gatheral postgraduate travel scholarship (£3,357) to pursue a 3-month visit for learning a novel mathematical modelling technique at BIOMAC Los Andes University in Colombia in February 2018.
    • British Society of Parasitology international training and fieldwork award (£1,500) to broaden laboratory and fieldwork skills during a research trip in the highlands in Ecuador in June 2018.
    • University of Glasgow conference support award (£400) to attend Latin American parasitology conference in Chile, December 2017.
    • University of Glasgow skills training award (£1265) to attend mathematical modelling of infectious disease course in Cambridge, February 2017.
    • Travel award to attend NERC Introduction to Mathematical Modelling for the Environmental and Biological Sciences course in Stirling, February 2016.
    • Mexican Science and Technology - CONACyT scholarship (£61,320) to study doctorate degree at the University of Glasgow January 2016 to date.
    • CONACyT scholarship (£20,440) to study a master degree at the University of Glasgow September 2014 - September 2015.

    Conference

    - Oral presentation: "2b-RAD Genotyping for Population Genomic Studies of Chagas Disease Vectors: Rhodnius ecuadoriensis in Southern Ecuador" at the British Society of Parasitology spring meeting 2017 in Dundee, UK.

    - Poster presentation: "2b-RAD genotyping for population genomic studies of Chagas disease vectors: Rhodnius ecuadoriensis in Ecuador" at the Latin American Parasitology congress on December 2017 in Santiago, Chile.

    Oral presentation: "Modelling tools for infectious disease in humans and animals" at the IV International meeting on Infectious Diseases and Tropical Medicine on June 2016 in Quito, Ecuador. 

    Teaching

    • GTA biology level 1 laboratory (2-year experience)
    • GTA molecular biology level 2 laboratory and subsequent R practicals (1 year experience)
    • GTA R statistical analysis practical for students in the quantitative methods in biodiversity, conservation and epidemiology master programme.
    • GTA in evolutionary analysis in R for zoology level 3 students and guiding throughout the concepts of analysis NGS sequencing data for signatures of selection.

    Additional Information

    pending