- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Enter molecular geneticist and mosquito researcher Clément Vinauger, an assistant professor with the Department of Biochemistry, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (aka Virginia Tech), Blacksburg Va., who will present a virtual seminar hosted by the UC Davis Entomology and Nematology on "Neural and Molecular Basis of Mosquito Behavior" on Wednesday, Jan. 11.
His seminar, open to all interested persons, begins at 4:10 p.m. (Pacific Time). The Zoom link: https://ucdavis.zoom.us/j/95882849672.
"Because they vector pathogens to humans, mosquitoes impact millions of people every year," Vinauger says in his abstract. "The global strategy for the management of mosquito-borne diseases involves controlling vector populations, to a large extent, through insecticide application. However, vector-borne diseases are now resurgent, largely because of rising insecticide resistance in vector populations and the drug resistance of pathogens. In this context, the Vinauger Lab studies the molecular, physiological, and neural basis of mosquito behavior. We rely on a collaborative, integrative, and multidisciplinary approach, at the intersection between data science, neuro-ethology, molecular biology, and chemical ecology. Our long-term goal is to identify targets to disrupt mosquito-host interactions and reduce mosquito-borne disease transmission."
Molecular geneticist and physiologist Joanna Chiu, professor and vice chair of the Department of Entomology and Nematology and a Chancellor's Fellow, will serve as the host. "I have very high regard for Dr. Vinauger's integrative and multidisciplinary research into the biochemical and neurophysiological basis of insect behavior," Professor Chiu said. "His research program is innovative and rigorous, leveraging techniques in quantitative behavioral analysis, bioengineering, neurobiology, and computational methods to address exciting and important questions in mosquito biology and behavior."
You may have read about Vinauger's work, including the sleep-deprivation research that he and his lab did. Deprive mosquitoes of their sleep and that "may affect mosquitoes' ability to find human hosts or even stop their ability to spread disease," according to an article published Oct. 5, 2022 by Virginia Tech in announcing that he received a two-year $430,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health "to research the sleep habits of mosquitoes with the thought that if sleep-deprived humans have trouble functioning, maybe sleep-deprived mosquitoes do too."
"Vinauger is collaborating with a team from the University of Cincinnati in this research, the first of its kind to study how sleep deprivation may affect a mosquito's ability to find human hosts or even stop its ability to spread disease," writer Mary Hardbarger related. "A good or bad night's sleep can define a person's day, and the same goes for mosquitoes," she wrote. "In humans, a good night's rest improves memory, immunity health, energy level, and many other functions that contribute to overall well-being."
"Unfortunately, solid sleep is just as helpful to the mission of mosquitoes," she pointed out. "The more sleep they get, the more likely they are to buzz, bite, and spread disease. Fortunately, though, sleep-deprived mosquitoes are just as miserable as the sleep-deprived humans they hunt."
The Vinauger lab's latest publication, "Visual Threats Reduce Blood-Feeding and Trigger Escape Responses in Aedes aegypti Mosquitoes," appears in the Dec. 9, 2022 edition of Scientific Reports.
Jason Bittel of the Washington Post wrote about Vinauger's work in a Kids' Post, "Ever Wonder How Mosquitoes Find You?" published Aug. 5, 2019.
"Mosquitoes don't just use one sense to look for dinner," Bittel wrote. "They have evolved a sort of Swiss Army knife of tools that tells them when fresh blood is close by."
Vinauger told him: “The first thing is that they smell us."
Thinking outside the box, Vinaguer and his lab created tiny plastic helmets for the mosquitoes and gathered images from the brain into how they think.
"...when a mosquito gets a whiff of carbon dioxide, the smelling part of its brain begins to send messages to the visual part telling it to be on the lookout for food," Bittel wrote.
Apparently, a whiff and you're it, you're the food.
Vinauger joined the Virginia Tech faculty in October 2017, after serving as a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Washington, Seattle. Educated in France, earning three degrees there, he received his bachelor of science degree in biology/biological sciences in 2006 from the University of Orléans; his master's degree in 2008 from the University of Tours; and his doctorate in 2011 from the University of Tours, Research Institute on Insect Biology.
Vinauger's seminar is the first in a series of winter seminars hosted by the UC Davis Department of Entomology seminars on Wednesdays through March 15. (See schedule.) Eight of the 10 will be in-person in 122 Briggs Hall, and all will be virtual.