Loyola University Chicago

Department of Biology

Kaitlyn Kiernan Project Description

Title: Functional Studies on Two Novel Mosquito Stage-Specific Genes in the Malaria Parasite, Plasmodium berghei



Malaria continues to be a global threat to human health with an estimated 212 million cases and 429,000 deaths occurring in 2015. The causative agent, Plasmodium, is a protozoan parasite that is transmitted by Anopheles mosquitoes. As most of the research done on malaria focuses on development within the human host, very little is known about parasite cell biology during development within the mosquito. In an effort to better understand and target Plasmodium transmission, our lab is currently studying the adaptive mechanisms underlying parasite survival and development, specifically in the mosquito vector. I established the CRISPR/Cas9 system in the rodent model malaria parasite Plasmodium berghei to study the function of two novel genes, trxl-1 and spm-1, that are hypothesized to be involved in mosquito stages. I found that the development of the trxl-1 knockout parasites was significantly delayed in the early mosquito stages. Additionally, I found that the loss of spm-1 is not lethal in blood stages, but appears to be important for schizogony and gametocytogenesis in the malaria parasite. The results presented in this thesis shed light on the molecular mechanisms that the malaria parasite utilizes to survive in the mosquito vector and can potentially inform the design of novel transmission blocking strategies.



I would like to thank all the wonderful people who made this thesis possible. First, thank you to my advisor, Dr. Stefan Kanzok, for his constant support as I wouldn’t be where I am now without his guidance. I’d like to thank my committee members, Dr. Catherine Putonti and Dr. Jennifer Mierisch, for their invaluable advice, in and out of the lab. I’d also like to thank my fellow, sleep-deprived graduate students for always inspiring me to keep moving forward. To all the lab members I had the pleasure of working with, thank you for keeping me sane and tolerating all of the pictures of my cat on a daily basis. Special thanks to Emily Zurales for always lending me a helping hand, especially on the days with grueling time point mosquito dissections. I’d also like to thank all of my friends and family. I am so grateful that my dad raised me on good music, as I would have never been able to count parasitemias for hours on end without it. Last but not least, thank you to my other half, Sean. As my level of craziness was proportional to the length of my thesis, his unconditional support and encouragement kept me grounded.



Kaitlyn Kiernan was born and raised in Woodstock, IL. In May 2015, she graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a Bachelor of Science in Biology with a Molecular Emphasis. In August 2015, she began the Master of Science in Biology program at Loyola University Chicago.  After finishing her master’s degree at Loyola, she will continue working in Dr. Judith Behnsen’s microbiology lab at the University of Illinois Chicago studying Salmonella pathogenesis.


Committee Members:

Dr. Stefan Kanzok

Dr. Jennifer Mierisch

Dr. Catherine Putonti