Kenneth Agerlin Halberg

Kenneth Agerlin Halberg

Associate Professor

Molecular genetics and integrative physiology of neuropeptide signaling in insects

The regulation of complex homeostatic processes relies on the coordinated release of small signaling molecules, neuropeptides, which bind to their cognate receptors in target tissues to elicit a physiological response. Neuropeptide systems are thus key mediators of intercellular communication and direct critical actions in morphogenesis, metabolism, reproduction, behavior and physiology in insects. Using the genetic model organisms Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly) and Tribolium castaneum (red flour beetle), and by leveraging cutting-edge technologies in molecular genetics, biochemistry and classical physiology, we aim to identify and characterize neuropeptide signaling in insects, as well as the important physiological outputs they control.

We are currently particularly interested in insect renal function and control. As in humans, the insect renal system maintains a constant internal milieu by regulating steady-state levels of water, ions, nutrients and waste, and uniquely, is capable of moving its own volume of water every 6 seconds. This makes it the fastest secreting epithelium in biology, and thus the ideal system for studying epithelial function and control. Beyond gaining fundamental insights into the basic underpinning biology, our work has further led us to model human renal diseases in Drosophila, and to explore the potential for developing novel neuropeptide-based tools for more ‘eco-friendly’ pest control in Tribolium.

We are a newly started lab and so are currently open to new B.Sc. and M.Sc. students, just as we are looking to recruit new, ambitious Ph.D. students and postdocs.  

Recent publications

  • Halberg, K. A., Rainy, S., Veland, I. R., Dornan, A. T., Davies, S. & Dow, J. A. T. The cell adhesion molecule Fasciclin 2 regulates brush border length and organization in Drosophila renal tubules. Nature Communications. 7:11266 1-10 (2016).
  • Cannell, E., Dornan, A. T., Halberg, K. A., Terhzaz, S., Dow, J. A. T. & Davies, S. The CRF-like diuretic neuropeptide 44 (DH44) and leucokinin modulate desiccation and starvation tolerance in Drosophila melanogaster. Peptides. 80:96-107 (2016).
  • Halberg, K. A., Terhzaz, S., Cabrero, P., Davies, S. A. & Dow, J. A. T. Tracing the evolutionary origins of insect renal function. Nature Communications. 6:6800 1-10 (2015).
  • Terhzaz, S., Cabrero, P., Brinzer, R. A., Halberg, K. A., Dow, J. A. T. & Davies, S. A. A Novel Role of Drosophila Cytochrome P450-4e3 in Permethrin resistance. Insect Biochemistry & Molecular Biology 67:38-46 (2015).
  • Overend, G., Cabrero, P., Halberg, K. A., Woods, D. J., Davies, S. A. & Dow, J. A. T. Comprehensive transcriptomic view of renal function in the malaria vector, Anopheles gambiae. Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology 67:47-58 (2015).

Collaborators | Our research depends strongly on both national and international collaborators in Europe and in the US. At present, we collaborate very closely with Ass. Prof. Kim Rewitz, University of Copenhagen, DK, but we also have strong collaborations with Prof. Julian A.T. Dow, University of Glasgow, UK; Ass. Prof. Barry Denholm, University of Edinburgh, UK; Ass. Prof. Julia Cordero, University of Glasgow, UK; Prof. Gregor Bucher, University of Göttingen, DE; Prof. Michael Romero, The Mayo Clinic, US; Research chemist, Ron Nachman, USDA, US.

General techniques & tools | Our research is highly cross-disciplinary integrating complimentary disciplines in both biology, chemistry and technology. The techniques used may typically (but not exclusively) include RNA sequencing (RNAseq); Bioinformatics; Super resolution confocal laser scanning microscopy (SR-CLSM); Immunocytochemistry (ICC); Electron microscopy (SEM/TEM); Receptor biochemistry; Genetics/transgenics; Peptide chemistry.

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