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Professor Steven Sinkins


Steven Sinkins

Lancaster University

Furness Building



Tel: +44 1524 592995

Research overview

Wolbachia, mosquitoes and disease transmission (tropical medicine).

Wolbachia is an inherited intracellular bacterium and can manipulate host insect reproduction by inducing sterility known as cytoplasmic incompatibility, allowing it to invade populations. It occurs naturally in many mosquito species, and certain introduced strains have been found to strongly inhibit the transmission of mosquito-borne viruses such as dengue and parasites such as Plasmodium (malaria) & filarial nematodes. We are interested in how this inhibition occurs, how it can be used in disease control, and how Wolbachia manipulate their hosts.

I am a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow.

Current Research

Current projects include:-

  • Interactions between Wolbachia and malaria vector mosquitos - Dr Kirsty Stainton, Wellcome Trust; Christie Herd, MRC PhD student; Josh Blight, Oxford NDM DPhil student
  • Mechanisms of Wolbachia-mediated virus inhibition - Dr Caroline Harris, Wellcome Trust
  • Wolbachia transinfections in Culex and Aedes - Dr Tom Ant, BBSRC-EMIDA 'RiftVectors'.
  • Proteomics of host-Wolbachia interactions - Dr Vincent Geoghegan, Wellcome Trust
  • Wolbachia comparative genomics and mechanisms of cytoplasmic incompatibility - with Beth Sutton, BBSRC DPhil student in Oxford and Prof Julian Parkhill / Dr Simon Harris, Sanger Institute

Research Interests

Mosquitoes transmit some of the world’s most serious infectious diseases: malaria is a major killer (especially in Africa), lymphatic filariasis one of the main global causes of disability, and epidemic viral diseases such as dengue impose huge health burdens across the tropics. Effective vaccines are not available for most mosquito-borne infections, and control of the mosquito vectors has long been a focus of disease prevention. The development of insecticide resistance has been a significant impediment however and alternative control strategies are much needed.


Wolbachia are bacterial endosymbionts that occur in a range of invertebrates; they are very common in insects, including a number of mosquito species in the Aedes and Culex genera. They are not infectious but instead are inherited from mother to offspring, often at very high rates (just as mitochondria are). Many Wolbachia exploit this asymmetric inheritance, and the fact that males are a dead-end host, by modifying their sperm such that they are unable to complete successful fertilization of Wolbachia-free eggs. However, a ‘rescue’ effect occurs when both parents carry the bacteria, allowing successful embryo development. Females carrying Wolbachia thus have a significant fitness advantage - they are able to mate successfully with any male regardless of its Wolbachia status. Rapid invasion of host insect populations can result from this powerful mechanism, known as cytoplasmic incompatibility.


Some strains of Wolbachia, particularly those from Drosophila flies, have been introduced into mosquitoes and were found to reduce or completely block the transmission of various important pathogens, including dengue, yellow fever and chikungunya viruses and malaria (Plasmodium) and filarial nematode (Brugia) parasites. In combination with their population spreading capacity, these Wolbachia can thus provide new approaches to combat mosquito-borne disease. We are examining the interactions between various native and non-native Wolbachia strains and important mosquito species, including bacterial density, interactions with the host immune system, and their effects on intracellular resources on which pathogens may depend. We are also attempting to better understand the molecular mechanisms of cytoplasmic incompatibility, using comparative genomics of mutually incompatible Wolbachia and host gene expression and knockdown studies.

Additional Information

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