His foe? The day-biting, tiger-striped mosquito, Aedes aegypti. It transmits a virus that causes dengue, sometimes called "break-bone fever."
It's the world’s worst insect-transmitted virus.
And it's on the rise.
"Spread by mosquitoes, it can make you feel as if your bones are broken and leave you exhausted for months," writes Zimmer, who teaches Yale University students how to write about science and the environment. "In more serious cases, people suffer uncontrollable bleeding and sometimes die. Dengue is expanding its range, and is even making incursions into the United States. Scott and I talk about what scientists know and don't know yet about dengue, and what the best strategy will be to drive the virus down."
When Scott leaves his mosquito research laboratory at UC Davis, he’s likely heading for his field stations in Peru, Thailand or Mexico to try to stop that killer mosquito from transmitting dengue.
Scott’s goal: to save lives through research, surveillance and implementation of disease prevention strategies.
“I study the patterns of human infection with dengue virus, doing detailed studies of mosquito populations and disease in humans in order to predict which prevention strategies work the best,” said Scott, who assesses risks, develops computer models and implements disease prevention strategies.
The culprit: Aedes aegypti, or the yellow-fever mosquito, that transmits dengue virus to people.
The disease: Dengue, caused by any one of four serotypes or closely related viruses known as DEN-1, DEN-2, DEN-3, or DEN-4. Nicknamed “break-bone fever,” classic dengue is characterized by high fever, headaches, muscle and joint pain, nausea, vomiting and a rash.
At risk: Some 2.5 to 3 billion people, primarily in tropical and sub-tropical countries around the world.
The prevalence: Some 50 to 100 million annual cases of debilitating dengue fever. The most severe form of the disease, dengue haemorrhagic fever (DHF), strikes half a million a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An estimated 5 percent with DHF die.
There’s no vaccine. There’s no cure. The only way to prevent this disease is to kill the mosquito vector.
Scott directs the state-funded UC Mosquito Research Laboratory, based in Briggs Hall on the UC Davis campus. His team includes UC Davis associate professor and medical entomologist Anthony “Anton” Cornel, based at the Kearney Agricultural Center, Parlier; researcher Amy Morrison who lives in Iquitos, Peru and has directed their research there since 1999; program manager Leslie Sandburg; postdoctoral and graduate students; and a long list of collaborators at his field sites in Mexico, Peru and Thailand.
Listen to the podcast and learn how Thomas Scott (who at 6-foot, 6 inches tall, towers over his tiny foe) is battling this killer.
(Editor's note: Professor Scott will be teaching a winter course on medical entomology at UC Davis, discussing such diseases as malaria, dengue, West Nile virus, lyme disease, yellow fever, and river blindness.)
Ghouls just like to have fun at Halloween.
So do entomologists.
When the Bohart Museum of Entomology. located at 1124 Academic Surge, University of California, Davis, holds its annual Halloween Open House, guests are in for a real treat.
A few tricks, too--in the form of tricky costumes.
This year forensic entomologist Bob Kimsey, dressed in a ghillie suit, the kind of camouflage clothing turkey hunters wear. Note: No turkeys were harmed in the wearing of the suit.
Bohart Museum director Lynn Kimsey, who as the former chair of the Department of Entomology, helped coordinate the honey bee program and activities during her tenure, dressed as...you guessed it...a queen bee.
Year around, the Bohart is home to seven million insect specimens, and a few live ones--or what Kimsey calls "the petting zoo." The zoo includes Madagascar hissing cockroaches, Vietnamese walking sticks and assorted other critters.
If the "petting zoo" critters could talk, they'd still be talking about the director disguised as a queen bee, a graduate student posing as an exterminator and a forensic entomologist dressed in a ghillie suit.
Meanwhile, the Bohart Museum is gearing up for two open house days: Sunday, Nov. 14 from 1 to 4 p.m., and Saturday, Dec. 11 from 1 to 4 p.m. Those are in addition to the regular weekday hours.
Don't expect any queen bees, exterminators or ghillie suits there, though.
What's a fly doing there?
Just soaking up the sun.
A fly that landed on one of the two colorfully painted beehive columns that grace the entrance to the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at the University of California, Davis, seemed like part of the scene.
The haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden planted next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, draws many a visitor--and many an insect. It is open year around.
We spotted this fly next to a painting of a honey bee in flight.
It knows a good spot when it sees one.
That would be "the rapidly evolving soapberry bugs."
Hugh Dingle, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, will present a UC Davis Department of Entomology seminar from 12:10 to 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 10 in 122 Briggs Hall.
His topic: "And the Beak Shall Inherit: Contemporary Local and Reverse Evolution in Morphology and Life History in American and Australian Soapberry Bugs."
Professor Sharon Lawler of the Department of Entomology faculty will introduce him.
During his 20-year tenure on the UC Davis faculty, Dingle studied various aspects of insect migration “and especially the relation between migration and the evolution of life histories.”
“One aspect of these studies,” he said, “was the rapid contemporary evolution of insects (soapberry bugs) on introduced host plants (golden rain trees), including the interesting genetic relationships between feeding habits and variation in the ability to fly and migrate.”
His seminar will focus on laboratory-selection experiments on North American soapberry bugs designed to assess the genetic relationships among rapidly evolving traits, including the feeding apparatus and the structure and function of wings and wing muscles, necessary to migratory behavior.
“The bugs respond rapidly to selection for both forward and reverse evolution, demonstrating that the genetic variation necessary for evolution is present in the bugs even after intense natural selection,” Dingle said.
Of particular interest is a genetic correlation between mouthpart structure and wing morph frequency so the two traits share genes and evolve together. “The ecology of the bugs reveals why this might be the case,” he said. “A similar rapidly evolving soapberry bug system exists in Australia allowing intercontinental comparisons of contemporary evolution in these bugs as a consequence of the introduction of exotic host plants.”
For the last seven years, Dingle has been living and doing research at the University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia. Now a resident of Davis, he is continuing his research from his headquarters in the Lawler lab.
Dingle received his bachelor's degree in zoology, with honors, from Cornell University, and his master's and doctorate degrees in zoology from the University of Michigan.
Meanwhile, be sure to check out UC Davis researcher Scott Carroll's website on soapberry bugs. Carroll, also associated with the Lawler lab, maintains a Flickr site and invites images of soapberry bugs.
Evolution in action...
So you're thinking about becoming a backyard beekeeper...
What considerations are involved?
Honey bee guru Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist and member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty, has just revised his Bee Brief on "Getting Started in Beekeeping," posted on the department's website.
"One of your most important considerations," Mussen says, "is the safety of family members and neighbors." Indeed, someone might be allergic to bee stings and require immediate medical attention.
"The only way to find out is to ask the neighbors, and this will allow you to find out whether or not there is serious opposition to your keeping bees in the neighborhood," Mussen says.
Among the other considerations:
1. Over how much of the year will nectar and pollens be available to the bees? Will you have to feed the bees to ensure their survival?
2. Over how much of the year will water be available to the bees? They need it every day.
3. What will the bees be flying over to get their food and water? They defecate in flight and bee feces can damage finishes on cars and leave colored spots on everything below them. Also, will they be flying across a pedestrian, bicycle or equestrian pathway? If so, they have to be encouraged to gain altitude quickly by installing fencing or solid, tall plantings near the hives.
4. Is the apiary accessible year around? Flooding at or near the apiary site is the usual problem.
5. Try to avoid low spots. They hold cold, damp air for prolonged periods.
6. Try to avoid hilltops. They tend to be windy.
Mussen goes on to talk about beekeeping equipment, costs, knowledge of diseases, beekeeping journals, and the "bible" on honey bees, the 1324-page book: The Hive and the Honey Bee.
It's a good idea to join a local beekeeping organization and get tips from the veterans.
Beginning beekeeping books? Mussen points out that Kim Flottum, editor of Bee Culture magazine, recently published a 167-page book, The Backyard Beekeeper, and that UC Davis emeritus professor Norman Gary (and bee wrangler) has written a beekeeping book, The Honey Bee Hobbyist, due out in November or December.
There's a wealth of information out there to help you get started.