Research interests

  • Role of immunogenetics (MHC) in disease resistance
  • Ecology of zoonotic diseases: host-pathogen interactions
  • Evolution of (re-)emerging diseases

My research interests center on the immunogenetic basis of disease resistance. I am curious about how the composition of immune genes influences the outcome of pathogen infection with a particular focus on identifying and characterizing the function of genes that contribute to disease resistance/ susceptibility in reservoir hosts. In a nutshell, I am interested in using genetic data to understand diseases that pose a threat to human health.

Scientific projects

Immunogenetic basis of Yersinia pestis persistence in an important reservoir rodent species (Mastomys natalensis) in Tanzania

As part of Professor Simon Sommer’s Lab team, I investigate the immunogenetic basis of plague persistence in Tanzania. Although eradicated in most countries in the world, plague remains a threat to human health in some African countries, e.g Madagascar & Tanzania. The real culprits responsible for plague transmission are rodents and fleas. In efforts to understand why and how plague persists in Tanzania (since 1886), I characterized the MHC class II of an important reservoir species Mastomys natalensis using high-throughput Illumina sequencing. By probing the genetic diversity of MHC class II-DRB exon 2, I aim to answer key questions about plague resistance observed in the multimammate rat (M. natalensis), thus shedding light on how Yersinia pestis-mediated selection shapes MHC variation in this rodent species and how this relates to the plague persistence/maintenance in endemic foci. Improved understanding of plague resistance/susceptibility in reservoir species is important in developing new strategies to combat the ever-increasing threat plague poses to human health.


Haikukutu L, Lyaku JR, Lyimo C, Kasanga CJ, Kandusi SE, Rahelinirina S & Makundi R (2022) Plague in Tanzania: first report of sylvatic plague in Morogoro region, persistence in Mbulu focus, and ongoing quiescence in Lushoto and Iringa foci. IJID Regions, 4, 105-110.

Itenge TO, Haikukutu L & Lyaku JR (2020) The bovine major histocompatibility complex and its role in tick and tick-borne disease resistance and immune responsiveness in Bos indicus and their crosses with Bos taurus in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Review. Welwitschia International Journal of Agricultural Sciences, 2, 67-80.

Haikukutu L, Itenge TO, Bosman L, Visser C & van Marle-Köster E (2017) Genetic variability of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II (DRB3) in South African and Namibian beef cattle breeds. Advances in Animal Biosciences, 8 (1), 19-21.



  • Lavinia Haikukutu
  • Institute of Evolutionary Ecology
    and Conservation Genomics
    University of Ulm
    Albert-Einstein-Allee 11
    89081 Ulm
  • Tel: /
    Email: /