Specifically, Newton's work will focus on proteins known as effectors. Wolbachia inject these proteins into host organisms through a needle-like apparatus called a type IV secretion system, which modifies the insects' biology to make a "cozy niche" for the bacteria.

Newton's lab has already found that an effector called WalE1 interacts with a cellular protein called actin in hosts to facilitate transmission of Wolbachia from female insects to their offspring. She and colleagues are working to identify additional effector proteins.

The need to know more about effectors is great since the process of infecting mosquitoes with Wolbachia—to create insects unable to transmit disease—does not occur naturally or easily, Newton said.

"The identification of effectors is important since they can help make the process of infection easier," she added. "The more we know about the role of effectors, the more control we can gain over the process of infection, and the greater our ability to safely and effectively to stop disease."