The National Institutes of Health (NIH) granted researchers at UC Berkeley School of Public Health $ 1.7 million to study mosquito migration patterns using genomics.
The research team, led by campus professor John Marshall in collaboration with Gordana Rašić, a senior research fellow at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Australia, will use computer simulations and genetic techniques to study the migration and mating patterns of the Aedes aegypti mosquito species that the Carry Zika, Chikungunya, and Dengue viruses. This research will help scientists more effectively control mosquito-borne diseases, Marshall said.
“We’re excited about funding so that our ideas can become a reality,” said Marshall. “It took a couple of years, but we finally got money for our work. We thank the NIH for supporting this research. “
Since Marshall and Rašić met three years ago at a mosquito conference in French Polynesia, they have been working together on the project.
Rašić said in an email that her skills in population genomics and ecology complement Marshall’s in Computational Biology.
“We immediately ‘clicked’ and shared the same interest in developing and using different tools and approaches to study mosquito populations,” Rašić said in the email. “The collaboration seemed natural and almost inevitable.”
Rašić added that NIH funding will help the team track “fine” mosquito movements and create a simulation framework that can be used to model experiments with new mosquito control methods for four years.
In the past, according to Marshall, researchers have tried to track mosquito behavior using the “mark release recapture” method. In this method, mosquitoes are tagged with fluorescent dust and, once they are detected, can be analyzed to estimate the distance traveled and population size.
“The problem with these methods is that the observation process changes what you observe,” Marshall said.
Marshall and Rašić’s research is targeting the use of landscape genomics, in which researchers analyze DNA to determine how closely related mosquitoes are, rather than the “mark release recapture” method, Marshall said. With this DNA information, researchers can track the distances mosquitoes have traveled in a given generation.
Marshall and Rašić’s original proposal to the NIH was rejected in 2018, but the team received constructive feedback, which Rašić said helped formulate their 2020 proposal.
“We believe that our proposed project has great potential to fill some of the major gaps in the ability to develop safer and more efficient mosquito control strategies,” Rašić said in the email. “We were thrilled that the NIH felt the same way.”
Contact Anishi Patel and Eric Rogers at [email protected].