A threespine stickleback infected with eight  Schistocephalus solidus  plerocercoids.

A threespine stickleback infected with eight Schistocephalus solidus plerocercoids.

The Steinel Lab’s focus is in understanding the interplay and co-evolution of hosts and pathogens. Using threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) as a model organism, the lab studies teleost (bony fish) adaptive immunity, the manipulation of adaptive immunity by parasites, and the co-evolution of host and parasite factors. This work involves both laboratory-based experimentation as well as the study of wild populations.

While much is known about the mammalian adaptive immunity, substantially less in known about the adaptive immune responses of other vertebrates, including fish. The Steinel Lab uses a comparative approach to characterize the activation and the kinetics of the adaptive immune response of threespine stickleback.

The tapeworm Schistocephalus solidus is a natural parasite of threespine stickleback, and wild fish can become heavily infected in the wild (top image). We have observed that this tapeworm can suppress certain components of the stickleback adaptive immune response. Using histological and cell culture techniques the Steinel Lab studies the mechanisms by which a parasite can immunosuppress its host.

We have also observed that this immunosuppression varies among stickleback populations, suggesting that parasite-mediated immunomodulation may be locally adapted. The lab uses genetic screens, such as QTL mapping, to identify the areas of the genome associated with variability in immunosuppression.

List of current projects available in the Steinel lab

Photos from 2019 Field work season in Alaska and Vancouver Island.