Molly Hunter works to understand the role of heritable microbial symbionts in the biology of herbivorous arthropod, or pest biology. Current projects include: Investigating Rickettsia in the sweet potato whitefly, Bemisia tabaci, and investigating interactions between Cardinium and Wolbachia, in whitefly parasitoids in the genus Encarsia and Eretmocerus.
Martha Hunter, PhD, conducts research largely focused on understanding the evolutionary biology and ecology of parasitoids and predators important in biological control of agricultural pests. A group that has been central to much of her research are members of the aphelinid genus Encarsia, parasitoids of whiteflies and scale insects. Recently, the theme of her research has turned to the role of symbiotic microorganisms on the ecology and evolution of natural enemies. Dr. Hunter has found a bacterial symbiont in the Bacteroidetes, recently named Cardinium hertigii, that is unrelated to the better known proteobacterium, Wolbachia, but also manipulates the reproduction of is hosts in ways that enhances its transmission. Like Wolbachia, it induces parthenogenesis as well as cytoplasmic incompatibility in the autoparasitoid genus Encarsia, two reproductive phenotypes thought to be unique to Wolbachia.