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Island Ecosystems as Crucibles for Invasion Genomics and One Health Training of Undergraduates in Biomedicine

Research Summary:  In today’s interconnected world, species can spread unchecked to new regions through global transportation networks. These invasive species can overrun their new environments, causing extensive economic losses, threatening human health, and disrupting native ecosystems. Dr. Graham’s proposed research aims to fill crucial knowledge gaps in understanding the mechanisms of biological invasions, which hinder our preparedness to combat the increasing rates of incursion. Her focal group is terrestrial arthropods because these invaders pose substantial human health risks, including disease transmission, skin irritations, respiratory problems, venomous bites, waterborne diseases, and food contamination.

Invasion genetics has been a part of ecological and evolutionary studies for over five decades, but there’s still a significant gap in understanding how genomic processes lead to invasive traits in complex environmental contexts. Many invasive species lack reference genomes, and genomic research is often limited by high costs. Genomic data can provide valuable insights into the persistence and evolution of invasive species by revealing potential gene flow, genomic adaptations in invasive individuals, genetic structure of invasive populations, and the potential for further spread. Genomic resources are also crucial for developing innovative pest management technologies.

To address these knowledge gaps and technological demands in invasion biology Dr. Graham’s research employs advanced genomic sequencing technologies, in concert with environmental DNA surveys for early invasion detection, and the integration of environmental factors to allow for predictive modeling of invasion success. To determine the shared population characteristics and genomic features associated with invasion Dr. Graham and her team will conduct population genomic analyses of some of the world’s worst invasive species using Oxford Nanopore Technologies’ long-read sequencing. Laboratory research will be conducted by undergraduate students at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo with field sites on the island of Hawaiʻi. Dr. Graham’s long-term goal is to develop capabilities in the fields of invasion genomics and vector-omics with a particular focus on the vulnerability of island ecosystems. Completion of the work will help to establish strategies for rapid and targeted invasive species control locally and globally.


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