I am working as University researcher at the University of Helsinki in the Centre of Excellence in Biological Interactions. I joined TEAM::ANTZZ and in June 2012 as a postdoctoral researcher to work on the immunity of the ant Formica exsecta. After defending my doctoral degree in natural sciences in 2009 in Max Planck Institute of Chemical Ecology and Friedrch Schiller University in Jena I moved to my first PostDoc at the Institute of Phytopathology and Applied Zoology to work on the immunity and stress resistance in wax moth (Galleria mellonella) and red flour beetle (Tribolium castaneum).
In general I am interested in the molecular mechanisms standing behind the phenotypic plasticity. Central argument has been made by West-Eberhard (2003), that for understanding the evolution we have first to understand phenotypes, including their development and their responsiveness to environment. How the environmental signals are perceived, how they are dealt with and how organisms are optimizing their fitness accordingly are the central questions intriguing me.
I think by far the most exciting question for me for so far has been: “how mothers prime their children to cope with stressors in the environment?” In order to understand I have explored different host-parasite systems in the world of insects. Immunity is a “costly” trait and it has been shown, that it is expressed, only if really needed. The question is, HOW do we know, WHEN we should make our children resistant against infections? In collaboration with Dr. Heli Salmela (University of Helsinki) and Prof. Gro Amdam (Arizona State University)we have described for first time a mechanism, how honey bees (Apis mellifera) are able to transfer immunological signals from one generation to another and answer to a really fascinating question of immune priming in insects. With my PhD student Siiri Fuchs we try to understand how specific this mechanism is in different social insects.
Another big interest of mine is, how animals change their dietary choices depending on the stressors they encounter. In collaboration with Dr. Nick Bos (Neurotar, Helsinki) we have shown, that once ants Formica fusca get infected with fungus, they choose to feed on highly toxic compounds, which can defend them against the infection. With one of my PhD students Franziska Dickel we investigate the self-medication ability and phenomenon in tiger moth (Parasemia plantaginis) and in honey bee (Apis mellifera).Last couple of years, me and my PhD student Dmitri Stucki have been studying the stress responses and variation in immune responses between different casts of antFormica exsecta. In collaboration with Dr. Toomas Esperk, Prof. Tammaru and doctoral student Hendrik Meister we have been studying the seasonal, dietary and geographical effects on the immunity of different Lepiodopterans.