Kristina Brauburger

Kristina Brauburger


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I am strongly intrigued by detail and fascinated by the general concept how small things can make a big difference - especially in the nature surrounding us. I studied biology at the university of Marburg in Germany, where I was lucky to get involved in work with some of the smallest entities of life studied there: the ebola- and closely related marburgviruses (both filoviruses; “filum” = thread (Lat.)). Despite encoding only 7 genes these viruses belong to the world’s nastiest pathogens. During my PhD, I investigated the sophisticated transcription strategy of Ebola virus and as a postdoc at Boston University could broaden my insight into the molecular biology of filoviruses by exploring diverse reverse genetics systems used to study highly pathogenic viruses under normal laboratory conditions. Through collaborations with the Rocky Mountain laboratories in Hamilton, Montana, I had the great opportunity to clone recombinant filoviruses and analyze them in a high containment laboratory setting.

When I came to Sweden, I was fortunate enough to accompany two insect collection trips to Australia with Eric Warrant’s group, which got me fascinated in a totally different tiny, but equally intriguing natural phenomenon: the Bogong moths and their capability for long-distance migration. Bogong moths are huge in comparison with my favorite viruses: their genome contain about 2600 times as many protein-coding genes and a Bogong moth is roughly 50 000 times the size of an Ebola virus! However, they are tiny compared to other migrating animals, like birds, turtles, or whales. This makes them much more accessible and easier to study for tackling fundamental questions of animal migration. Having seen them clustered in thousands (up to 17 000/m2) on the walls of crevices and caves in the Australian Alps, one cannot help but being amazed by their sheer number and the fact that they have been reported to return to the exact same caves every summer, generation after generation, in order to evade the heat of their breeding grounds in more northern parts of the country. With which remarkable precision their minute eyes and brains must work to coordinate and steer this long yearly migratory journey!

I am excited for now having the chance to help to identify the molecular basis of how the Bogong moths (Agrotis infusa), in comparison to the non-migratory Turnip moths (Agrotis segetum), see the world- and maybe even sense the Earths’ magnetic field on their trip. My small project, which I am conducting with kind support of the Pheromone group, involves cloning of the photopigment (i.e. opsin and cryptochrome) genes of both species with the aim of analyzing their expression patterns in the moths’ brains and eyes. While opsins are involved in vision processes, cryptochromes have been proposed to form the molecular basis of light-dependent magnetoreception. Complementing the work of the other members of the Bogong moth project, my results will hopefully provide some insight into potential differences of eye design between migratory and non-migratory moths. Furthermore, they might allow the specific identification of cryptochrome-expressing cells in the moths’ retina and therefore serve as a basis for targeting them in electrophysiological recordings. Together, this work ultimately seeks to reveal the underlying molecular mechanism of the putative light-dependent magnetic compass in these tiny migrants.

UKÄ subject classification

  • Biological Sciences


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