They're probably not, though. They're too busy doing research.
They're the UC Davis scientists who worked on a malaria-proof mosquito that just made Time Magazine’s “50 Best Inventions of 2010.”
It's listed as No. 1 in Time Magazine’s Health and Medicine Category.
Back pedal to July of 2010. The collaborative team of UC Davis and University of Arizona researchers published their work on their malaria-proof mosquito in the journal Public Library of Science Pathogens (PLOS).
The research drew international attention because globally, malaria infects some 250 million people annually and kills more than a million a year, primarily in Africa.
"A malaria-proof mosquito?" Could it be? Yes!
“The transgenic mosquitoes were developed at the University of Arizona and we performed the malaria parasite infection studies here at UC Davis,” said malaria researcher and professor Shirley Luckhart (above) of the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology and an advisor in the Entomology Graduate Program.
Among the 11 scientists co-authoring the paper were four UC Davis researchers: Luckhart; professor Edwin Lewis, who has a joint appointment in the Entomology and Nematology departments; Entomology doctoral student Anna Drexler who studies with major professor Luckhart; and postdoctoral scholar Nazzy Pakpour of the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology.
“This is the first time anyone has created a transgenic mosquito line that has two important features for malaria transmission control: (1) reduced lifespan, and (2) complete resistance to infection with the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum,” Luckhart said.
“We know that one mosquito phenotype,” Luckhart said, “might not be enough to block transmission – that is, selection could result in parasites that develop more quickly or are more virulent to overcome one or the other phenotype, but the chance that parasites could evolve to evade both would be very small. We’re working on the mechanism of anti-parasite resistance right now and we have some tantalizing results that suggest that the effect on lifespan and immunity are linked through some major metabolic changes in the transgenic mosquitoes.”
As of Jan. 7, their scientific paper, “Activation of Akt Signaling Reduces the Prevalence and Intensity of Malaria Parasite Infection and Lifespan in Anopheles stephensi Mosquitoes, has generated nearly 7000 article views and has drawn extensive news coverage.
In a July 17 news article headlined “Malaria-Proof Mosquito Created,” science writer Eric Bland of ABC News pointed out that scientists had “engineered a genetic ‘on switch' that permanently activates a malaria-destroying response.”
“If these mosquitoes,” Bland wrote, “are successfully introduced into the wild, they could prevent millions of people from becoming infected with life-threatening Plasmodium -- the parasite that causes malaria.”
Time Magazine reporter Jeffrey Kluger described 2010 as "a bad year to be a mosquito. The world's most annoying insect is responsible for 250 million cases of malaria per year — and 1 million deaths. But scientists...have genetically engineered a mosquito that's immune to the Plasmodium parasite, the malaria-causing agent it transmits with its bite. The next step is to make the new mosquito hardier than the ordinary kind, then release it into the wild (perhaps within 10 years), where it will displace the deadly variety."
Yes, indeed, 2010 was a very bad year to be a skeeter.
And the future for these blood-sucking insects (the females need a blood meal to develop their eggs) promises to be even worse.
Postdoctoral researcher Rebecca “Becky” Trout-Fryxell (right), who studies Culex and Anopheles mosquitoes with University of California, Davis medical entomologists Anthony Cornel and Gregory Lanzaro, just received an award designating her as one of the top young entomologists in the nation.
Trout-Fryxell won one of the five John Henry Comstock Graduate Student Awards presented at the Entomological Society of America’s 58th annual meeting, held recently in San Diego. The Southwestern Branch of ESA selected her at its most outstanding entomology graduate student in a region encompassing Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, plus the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The other four ESA branches—Pacific, Eastern, North Central, and Southwestern Branch—also each selected a recipient.
Trout-Fryxell works with population genetics of the West Nile virus vector Culex pipiens, and does research on the malaria mosquito, Anopheles gambiae.
Fryxell joined the UC Davis team in April of 2009. Cornel is an associate professor of entomology, with offices and labs at UC Kearney Agricultural Center, Parlier, and UC Davis. Lanzaro is a professor in the Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, School of Veterinary Medicine.
Trout-Fryxell previously won a Isley-Duport Entomology Scholarship and was a member of the 2007 Linnaean Games National Championship team from the University of Arkansas. The Linnaean Games is a college bowl-type competition featuring questions about insects, entomologists and entomological facts.
Trout-Fryxell has published her research in Journal of Medical Entomology, Journal of American Mosquito Control, Emerging Infectious Diseases, Medical and Veterinary Entomology, among others, on topics ranging from mosquitoes and ticks to bed bugs.
Trout-Fryxell received her master’s degree in entomology from the University of Kentucky, Lexington, where she studied with major professor Grayson Brown. Her research focused on reducing mosquito populations in the peridomestic environment.
She received her doctorate in entomology from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, last May. Studying with major professors Dayton Steelman and Allen Szalanski, she completed her dissertation on the distribution and occurrence of ticks in Arkansas, also examining tick-host pathogen interactions.
The four other winners of the coveted John Henry Comstock Awards:
Pacific Branch: Ashfaq Sial, Washington State University
North Central Branch: Anna Fiedler, Michigan State University
Southwestern Branch: Joe Lewis, University of North Texas
Eastern Branch: Gaylord Desurmont, Cornell
Back, in 2008, mosquito researcher Christopher Barker of the William Reisen lab at UC Davis won the Comstock award from the Pacific Branch.
Davis is definitely a good place to be for mosquito research!
Unless you're in Galveston, Texas.
The 2011 North American Bee Conference and Trade Show is taking place Jan. 4-8 in Galveston.
They arrived from all parts of the world to bee "Together for a Sweet Future"--their theme.
This event is a joint effort of the American Beekeeping Federation, American Honey Producers Association and the Canadian Council to produce what the organizers say is "the most innovative beekeeping conference in North America."
Among those participating:
- American Association of Professional Apiculturists (AAPA)
- American Bee Research Conference (ABRC)
- Apiary Inspectors of America (AIA)
- National Honey Packers and Dealers Association (NHPDA)
One of the speakers is bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, who has a dual appointment with the University of California, Davis and Washington State University. Her topic: "The UC Davis and WSU Stock Importation Project."
She just returned from teaching queen bee insemination classes in New Zealand, where, she confides "Santa Claus wears shorts."
Participants in her insemination class were "mostly from the beekeeping industry," she said. The Plant & Food Research Institute is concerned about the Varroa mite, the nasty little parasite that's sucks the blood of the brood and adults. So building a better hygienic bee is crucial.
Honey bee guru Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist in the UC Davis Department of Entomology, is also one of the key players at the conference.
One of the major concerns is still colony collapse disorder (CCD), the mysterious phenomenon characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive, leaving behind the brood, queen bee and stored food. Without the worker bees, the hives collapse.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) just released its 2010 Colony Collapse Disorder Report and the news is not good. General colony losses increased to 34 percent in 2010.
The report, produced by USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture, indicated that before CCD, "losses averaged 15-20 percent annually from a variety of factors such as varroa mites and other pests and pathogens."It's a tough time for beekeepers struggling with CCD in their colonies. And now, California almond growers are gearing up for the almond pollination, which starts around Feb. 1. California has more than 700,000 acres of almonds and each acre requires two hives for pollination.
So, shortly after leaving the Lone Star State, many of the beekeepers will be heading for the Golden State.
Let's hope the outcome is golden.
Some species of bumble bees are disappearing at an alarming rate.
And that, in itself, is alarming.
A three-year study published Jan. 3 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) “uncovered major losses in the relative abundance of several bumble bee species and declines in their geographic range since record-keeping began in the late 1800s,” according to a University of Illinois press release.
The interdisciplinary study, led by Sydney Cameron of the Department of Entomology and Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois, showed that "declining bumble bee populations have lower genetic diversity than bumble bee species with healthy populations and are more likely to be infected with Nosema bombi, an intracellular parasite known to afflict some species of bumble bees in Europe."
“The national analysis found that the relative abundances of four of the eight species analyzed have declined by as much as 96 percent and that their surveyed geographic ranges have shrunk by 23 to 87 percent,” according to the news release. “Some of these contractions have occurred in the last two decades.”
Cameron and his colleagues studied eight of the 50 species of bumble bees found in North America. Of the eight, four are significantly in trouble.
Said Cameron: "They could potentially recover; some of them might. But we only studied eight. This could be the tip of the iceberg.”
Noted bumble bee expert Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, today discussed the declining bumble bee population with KTVU Fox 2 health and science editor John Fowler. The segment aired tonight on the 6 o'clock news.
Thorp and Fowler walked around the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a bee friendly garden planted next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road. Thorp monitors the garden for bees.
The Cameron study looked at three western bumble bees: Bombus vosnesenskii (yellow-faced bumble bee), B. bifarius, and B. occidentalis.
Of those western bumble bees, only B. occidentalis is in decline “and that one only in the western part of its range,” Thorp told us.
“Although the study treated B. pensylvanicus as the eastern species in decline, the researchers did not consider its very close western relative, B. sonorus, which used to be very common here and the rest of the Central Valley, but has virtually disappeared here since about 2003,” Thorp said.
"Both these species are doing well from the southern USA down into Mexico, however. This is a curious reversal of what one would expect if global warming might be a cause.”
Bumble bees, commercially reared to pollinate greenhouse tomatoes, peppers and strawberries, pollinate about 15 percent of our food crops, valued at $3 billion, Thorp said.
Thorp has been tracking the now critically imperiled Franklin's bumble bee (Bombus franklini) since 1998. "It has the most restricted distribution range of any bumble bee in North America and possibly the world. Its range is about 190 miles north to south and 70 miles east to west in a narrow stretch between southern Oregon and northern California between the coast and Sierra-Cascade range,” he said.
Its known distribution includes Jackson, Douglas and Josephine counties in Oregon and Siskiyou and Trinity counties in California. It lives at elevations ranging from 540 feet in the north to 6800 feet in the south.
The decline, disappearance and possible demise of Franklin’s bumble bee, is closely linked to the widespread decline of native pollinators in North America, Thorp said, and should concern all facets of society. “The loss of a native pollinator could strike a devastating blow to the ecosystem, economy and food supply.”
Hmm, ever wonder why honey bees love salvia?
Are they going for that nectar or are they going for something else?
Salvia divinorum, which like all the salvias, is a member of the mint family, is gaining notoriety for its hallucinogenic effects. Videos on smoking salvia and the resulting psychedelic experiences materialize periodically on YouTube.
Now in research published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, scientists think that an active ingredient in salvia--salvinorin A--may be a potential treatment for "an array of neurological disorders, including addiction," according to an article posted today on the Good Morning America ABC site.
The headline teased "Salvia Studies Hold Promise for Addiction." The subhead: "Hallucinogen Salvia is Safe, Could Open Door to New Class of Drugs for Pain Therapies."
The researchers, led by psychologist Matthew W. Johnson, speculate that salvinorin A "could open the door to a whole new class of drugs that have powerful analgesic properties."
Salvia is a member of the mint family.
Are bees are in "mint condition?"
Is "salvia" the new buzzword?
Look for more research on salvinorin A.