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Author: Donna Huber

UGA Researchers Receive NSF Grant to Study Hormone Regulation in Mosquitoes


Athens, GA–Mosquitoes transmit diseases such as Zika virus, dengue, and malaria to people and other vertebrates worldwide. In a newly funded National Science Foundation (NSF) project, Michael Strand and Mark Brown, both professors in the Department of Entomology and members of the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases, hope to gain new insights into how hormones coordinate immune responses with reproduction.

The immune and reproductive systems of all animals, including mosquitoes, require large amounts of energy but how these energetic demands are regulated at the molecular level are poorly understood. How immune defenses are regulated relative to other functions like reproduction is of long-standing interest and the main goal of this project is to answer this question.

Strand and BrownMosquitoes provide an interesting system for addressing these issues because almost all species must feed on blood from a vertebrate host, such as humans or another animal, to reproduce.  However, blood feeding exposes mosquitoes to microorganisms that cause disease in mosquitoes, the vertebrate hosts mosquitoes feed upon, or both.  Background studies by Strand and Brown have shown that certain hormones co-regulate reproduction and immune defense.

“What we hope to characterize in this project are the biochemical pathways these hormones interact with, and how these pathways affect the ability of mosquitoes to defend themselves from infection,” said Strand. “We also will learn whether these pathways function similarly or dissimilarly between species.”

The fundamental questions about reproduction and immunity that this project is designed to answer apply not only to mosquitoes but to all animals. “The information we generate will also potentially provide information that can be applied toward reducing mosquito reproduction and transmission of pathogens that cause human disease,” said Strand.

NSF requires grant recipients to engage in activities that have broader impacts that enhance STEM education and improve science literacy in the general public. “The public at-large generally knows that mosquitoes can transmit human diseases, but people often do not understand how disease transmission occurs or why some mosquito species are disease vectors but most are not,” said Strand. In conjunction with Georgia 4-H and the Cooperative Extension Program at UGA, teaching materials for middle and high school students will be developed that explain disease transmission, the mosquito life cycle, and strategies for controlling vector populations.

National Science Foundation Award #1656236 “Endocrine regulation of immunity and reproduction in mosquitoes

Writer: Donna Huber

Contact: Michael Strand, Mark Brown

Trainee Spotlight: Manuel Fierro

trainee Manuel Fierro

Manuel Fierro is a pre-doctoral trainee in Vasant Muralidharan’s Laboratory. He is originally from Ecuador. His family moved to the US when he was 9 years old, and he has lived in Georgia ever since. Manuel received his Bachelor of Science degree in Cellular Biology from the University of Georgia in 2014. He is a recipient of the Center’s NIH funded T32 Training Grant for Interdisciplinary Parasitology, Vector Biology, and Emerging Diseases.

Manuel’s research focus

Manuel’s project deals with understanding how calcium is regulated in the endoplasmic reticulum of Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite that causes malaria.

“My undergraduate training was in Dr. Silvia Moreno’s lab studying calcium signaling in Toxoplasma gondii and I wanted to answer the same type of questions in Plasmodium,” said Manuel.

Capstone Experience

Each T32 trainee is provided with the opportunity to complete a capstone experience at the end of their fellowship.

“My home country of Ecuador is approaching elimination of malaria,” said Manuel, “and I would like to work with some of the researchers in the field there who track populations of infected mosquitoes as well as monitor cases of infection in humans.”

T32 Fellowship helps trainee achieve goals

“I truly enjoy working in a lab, but it is not the same as experiencing what diseases are like in the real world,” said Manuel. “This fellowship will help me expand my understanding of malaria by giving me the opportunity to see it in a different setting.”

Manuel is currently considering a career in industry, but he is open to staying in academia.


Support trainees like Manuel Fierro by giving to the Center for Tropical & Emerging Global Diseases

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