Benbow Research Lab at Michigan State University
Applied Ecology in Aquatics, Disease and Forensics Lab
Our research aims to understand the concepts and mechanisms which underly the complexities of ecological science and how it can be applied to advances in aquatic resources management, human health and forensics. We use advanced research approaches and technologies to investigate the community ecology of insects and microbes for uses important to humanity.
The lab approaches fundamental questions of how potential invertebrate vectors interact with known pathogens and suspected symbionts that mediate disease spread and pathogen transmission. We also conduct field surveys and experiments that test how changing environmental conditions mediate the interactions of vectors, hosts, their microbial communities and habitat templates influence disease emergence and outbreaks. Recent work is investigating how habitat microbial communities affect the behavior and life history of mosquitoes and if mosquito microbiomes vary with species and populations over space and time.
The lab asks both basic and applied aquatic ecology questions in stream and wetland ecosystems. Recent efforts are focused on testing how organic matter resources from riparian forests affect network linkages among aquatic macroinvertebrate and microbial communities. We conduct field studies with nested manipulation experiments to discover how changing the quality and quantity of organic matter mediates the microbial community ecology of macroinvertebrates at individual, population and community levels of biological organization. Other studies address the role organic matter microbes affect the fitness of aquatic insects.
The lab conducts both laboratory and field research into interactions of organisms such as microbes and insects during the decomposition of animal carrion, including humans. We ask basic ecological research questions that have direct application to forensic investigation. Recent efforts are focused on surveying the microbial communities of human cadavers, or the postmortem microbiome, and how they can be used to estimate a time since death, a manner of death and other aspects of a death investigation. Other studies are directed at understanding how microbial communities of a carcass change in response to insects that colonize them.
Insects as Food and Feed
With a growing global human population comes a challenge to feed that population. An expanding and highly sustainable approach is to use insects that convert organic material into feed, releasing the harvesting pressure on fish and livestock around the world. This line of research focuses on understanding the relationships of insects and microbes for improving using insects as food and feed for a growing global population.
Human Postmortem Microbiomes & Forensic Applications
Originally funded by the National Insitute of Justice in 2010 and again in 2014, we have created a large database and library of postmortem microbiome samples and sequences. We partner with medical examiners in the USA and Europe to characterize human postmortem microbiomes from different geographic regions for application in forensics for postmortem interval estimates and manner/cause of death.
Thanks for your interest in our research. Get in touch with us for any questions or comments regarding our work and publications. We’d love to hear from you.
Interested in the graduate program here at MSU?
Check out MSU Entomology for the application process.
Ecology, Evolution and Behavior Program
East Lansing, MI, USA
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