Dr. Jennifer Kovacs, Assistant Professor of Biology has been awarded a four-year grant from the National Science Foundation in the amount of $603,128. Her project “Evolutionary and Ecological Impacts of Horizontal Gene Transfer in Arthropods,” explores how organisms acquire new traits. New traits can arise a number ways including mutations and gene duplications. Bacteria acquire traits from other bacteria or from their environment through a process known as horizontal gene transfer (HGT). These HGTs can allow their new host to rapidly adapt to their environment. It has been thought the HGT happened only in bacteria, but recently multiple cases of functional HGT have been documented in a wide range of eukaryotes, including a variety of arthropods. The goal of this project is to identify, validate and characterize HGTs in fifteen species of blood-feeding and herbivorous arthropods, including two species of ecologically and economically important mites which will have their transcriptomes sequenced as part of this work. Dr. Kovacs is particularly interested in the role that HGTs play in allowing organisms to exploit new environments. This grant will support several Spelman undergraduate researchers who will help perform this exciting research. It will also support a post-doctoral fellow, who along with the Dr. Kovacs, will develop a science writing module for the undergraduate classroom as well as outreach events for middle and high school teachers.