Meet Olivia Winokur, an enthusiastic, dedicated and multi-talented medical entomologist whose childhood curiosity about a yellow fever vaccination sparked her interest in 'skeeters.
In her youth, Olivia traveled with her parents and brothers to “off-the-beaten-path” locations. “So I was exposed to vector-borne disease awareness from a young age,” she recalled. “When I was 8 years old, I remember getting the yellow fever vaccination and being curious about why I had to get it for a trip to Southern Africa. I think that was my defining moment when I learned mosquitoes are more than just annoying. Since then, I've slept under many mosquito nets and am no stranger to mosquito bites.”
“I didn't think much about making a career out of those 'skeeters, though. I attended Cornell University as undergraduate, where I studied global public health from multiple perspectives. It wasn't until I became a research assistant in Dr. Laura Harrington's lab that I became fascinated with mosquito biology and decided to pursue a career in medical entomology.”
Winokur, who received her bachelor's degree in 2015 from Cornell University, majoring in Interdisciplinary Studies and focusing on the environmental effects on human health, enrolled in the UC Davis graduate program in 2016 as a Ph.D entomology student with a designated emphasis in the biology of vector-borne diseases.
She studies with major professor and UC Davis alumnus Christopher Barker, associate professor and associate researcher in the Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, School of Veterinary Medicine, who doubles as a graduate student advisor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Earlier this year, Winokur received a three-year National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. A 2017 Bill Hazeltine Memorial Award also helps fund her research.
Her research at UC Davis mainly involves Aedes aegypti, also known as the yellow fever mosquito. “At present, most of the research done on mosquito-borne virus transmission is done under a very narrow range of conditions that reflect a particular mosquito species' 'optimal' rearing and adult environment,” Winokur said. “I'm interested in how conditions outside of this optimal range at both the larval and adult stages affect mosquito-borne virus transmission. I work mostly with Aedes aegypti, which transmits diseases including dengue, Zika, yellow fever, and chikungunya viruses. Currently my research is focused on Zika virus. I hope to determine how the range of conditions mosquitoes encounter outside of the lab alter their life history traits, such as survival and blood feeding behavior, as well as viral transmission so that we can better understand geographical and seasonal mosquito-borne virus risk and eventually mitigate the risk.”
What fascinates her about mosquitoes? “People are usually wowed when I tell them there are over 3500 species of mosquitoes!” she said. “But don't worry.. not all of them transmit human pathogens. I love telling people about the natural history of different genera and species and how this affects the likelihood of pathogen transmission to humans. I'm continually fascinated by how resilient mosquitoes are, how successful they've been throughout history, and how they've completely altered human history. I actually gave a lecture on how vector-borne diseases have altered human history last quarter (Winter 2018) to an undergraduate class led by UC Davis entomology graduate students (Ent10: Natural History of Insects).”
Born in Long Beach, Calif., Olivia grew up in Laguna Niguel, Calif., where she focused on science as a part of the Dana Hills High School Health and Medical Occupations Academy. Olivia also played basketball at Dana Hills and helped the team win its first league title.
What drew her to UC Davis? “I grew up in California so I was familiar with UC Davis from a young age. I actually applied to UC Davis as an undergraduate, but decided to try life on the East Coast instead and attended Cornell University. While at Cornell, I learned a lot about UC Davis as most of my professors had spent some time at UC Davis during their academic tenure, and a lot of the research I was reading was coming out of UC Davis. I was excited to come back to the West Coast for graduate school so UC Davis seemed like an obvious choice!”
Winokur is a co-author of “The Impact of Temperature and Body-Size on Flight Tone Variation in the Mosquito Vector Aedes aegypti (Diptera: Culicidae): Implications for Acoustic Lures," published in April 2017, in the Journal of Medical Entomology. Several other manuscripts are accepted or in preparation.
She has given presentations at the Mosquito and Vector Control Association of California and the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
Dedicated to helping high school girls transition into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) careers, Winokur is a founding board member and publicity co-chair of GOALS (Girls' Outdoor Adventure in Leadership and Science). The organization seeks “to cultivate and embolden the next generation of STEM leaders through a free, immersive, field-based summer science program for high school girls.”
“GOALS is for high school girls, inclusive of cis, trans, and gender nonbinary youth who identify with girlhood, to learn science hands-on while backpacking through the wilderness,” Winokur related. “I have worked with an incredible team of UC Davis affiliates to create GOALS to increase opportunities for high school students who identify with girlhood from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in STEM. Our first trip is happening this summer!” This year's program takes place July 21 to Aug. 5.
Winokur is also a part of the Letters to a Pre-Scientist program “so I get to be a pen-pal to an elementary school student to talk about science!” In addition, she serves as the treasurer of the UC Davis Entomology Graduate Student Association.
Delighted to return to California after being on the East Coast, Winokur spends her leisure time outdoors hiking and backpacking “and exploring the beautiful places near Davis like the Lake Tahoe area and Yosemite. I taught backpacking and wilderness survival skills for Cornell Outdoor Education during college. Additionally, I'm a trivia nerd so I watch a lot of Jeopardy! and play pub trivia with my entomology colleagues weekly. I also enjoy drawing, reading, playing board games, and doing jigsaw puzzles. When I get the chance I enjoy traveling as well--I just returned from Belize and I'll be in Denmark in July!”
After finishing her Ph.D., Winokur plans to remain in academia, but “I'm unsure exactly what that will look like! I really enjoy research, teaching, and mentoring so I'd like to have a career where I can do all of these. I also plan to have a career where I can conduct translational research with broad global health implications, engage non-scientists, create tools to help decision makers mitigate vector-borne disease burden worldwide, and encourage interest and diversity in STEM.”
Travelers know Iquitos as the "capital of the Peruvian Amazon" but scientists know it as a hot spot for dengue, a mosquito-borne viral disease with raging outbreaks in many tropical and subtropical countries.
Amy Morrison, stationed in Iquitos full-time, has directed dengue research activities there for the past 15 years. An epidemiologist who joined the UC Davis laboratory of medical entomologist Thomas Scott (now professor emeritus) in 1996, she's a project scientist and scientific director of the Naval Medical Research Unit No. 6 (NAMRU-6) Iquitos Laboratory.
Morrison is back in the states to present a UC Davis seminar on "Targeting Aedes Aegypti Adults for Dengue Control: Infection Experiments and Vector Control in Iquitos" from 4:10 to 5 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 10, in 122 Briggs Hall, Kleiber Hall Drive.
Hosted by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, it's the first in a series of winter seminars coordinated by assistant professor Rachel Vannette and Ph.D student Brendon Boudinot of the Phil Ward lab.
Dengue is a threat to global health, says Morrison, who holds a doctorate in epidemiology from Yale University and a master's degree in public health from UCLA. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the incidence of dengue has increased 30-fold over the last 50 years and almost half of the world population is now at risk. It's ranked as "the most critical mosquito-borne viral disease in the world."
"Each year, an estimated 390 million dengue infections occur around the world," according to the World Mosquito Program. "Of these, 500,000 cases develop into dengue hemorrhagic fever, a more severe form of the disease, which results in up to 25,000 deaths annually worldwide."
Of the dengue project in Iquitos, Morrison says: "Comprehensive, longitudinal field studies that monitor both disease and vector populations for dengue viruses have been carried out since 1999 in Iquitos. In addition, to five large scale-vector control intervention trials, ongoing data collection has allowed the evaluation of Ministry of Health emergency vector control using indoor ULV space sprays with pyrethroids in concert with larviciding through multiple campaigns, as well as characterize local DENV (dengue virus) transmission dynamics through two and one novel DENV serotype and strain invasions into the city."
"Our research group has also been conducting contact cluster investigations on DENV-infected and febrile control individuals since 2008," Morrison relates. "These studies demonstrated that attack rates were consistent between houses where cases were first detected and recently visited contact houses independent of distance between these locations. Furthermore, contact cluster investigations allow us to identify viremic individuals across the spectrum of disease outcomes including inapparent infections."
"Using DENV positive individuals captured through these and other febrile surveillance protocols, we exposed laboratory reared (F2) Aedes aegypti mosquitoes directly on their arms or legs, and obtained blood samples with and without EDTA for exposure of mosquitoes in an artificial membrane feeder. After a 58-participant pilot study comparing feeding methods, we initiated a direct feeding protocol exposing participants (78 feeds in 31 participants to date). Feeding, survival, midgut infection and systemic dissemination are all higher using direct feeding than indirect feeding methods. Of 22 participants without detectable fluorescent focus assay titers in their serum at the time they were exposed to mosquitoes, 14 infected mosquitoes by at least one method."
"Although virus titer was a predictor of mosquito infection, mosquitoes became infected at low or undetectable titers and with subjects experiencing mild disease. We have evaluated insecticide-treated curtains and a novel lethal ovitrap (Attractive Lethal OviTrap = ALOT) for dengue control. Only the ALOT traps showed a significant impact on dengue incidence corresponding to a modest decrease in vector densities and a shift of the mosquito population age structure in the trap area to younger mosquitoes. Recent evaluations of indoor ULV interventions with pyrethroids suggest that ULV campaigns that reduce Aedes aegypti for at least 3 weeks through multiple fumigation cycles can mitigate DENV transmission during the same season."
Bottom line: "We argue that Aedes aegypti control should focus on interrupting transmission rather than long-term suppression at operationally unachievable levels and that emergency control should be applied at area-wide scales rather than reacting to individual DENV cases."
Chemical ecologist and mosquito researcher Walter Leal, distinguished professor in the UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, and his lab collaborated with scientists in Recife to ask “Does Zika Virus Infection Affect Mosquito Response to Repellents?”
The work, funded by the National Institutes of Health, was published Feb. 16 in Scientific Reports of the journal Nature. The researchers used mosquitoes originating from colonies reared by UC Davis medical entomologist Anthony Cornel and from colonies in Recife.
“We used assays mimicking the human arm to test the mosquitoes infected with the Zika virus,” Leal said, “and we asked whether the Zika infection affects mosquito response to repellents.” They tested DEET and Picaridin, considered the top two mosquito repellents. “We discovered that DEET works better than Picaridin against the southern house mosquito, Culex quinquefasciatus, and the yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti, whether infected or not.”
The researchers also found that old mosquitoes that already had a blood meal “were less sensitive to repellents,” said Leal, adding “It was not clear whether this was due to the virus, but mostly likely because of age. ”
“Lower doses--normally used in commercial products--work well for young mosquitoes,” Leal said, “but the old ones are the dangerous ones because they may have had a blood meal infected with virus and there was enough time for the virus to replicate in the mosquito body.”
“The bottom line: to prevent bites of infected mosquitoes, higher doses of repellent are needed. The data suggest that 30 percent DEET should be used. Lower doses may repel nuisance young mosquitoes, but not the dangerous, infected, old females.”
Leal, a native of Brazil, collaborates with Rosangela Barbosa and Constancia Ayres of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (FIOCRUZ-PE), Recife, Brazil. The work with infected mosquitoes was conducted at FIOCRUZ-PE.
Leal, Barbosa and Ayres co-authored the paper with Fangfang Zeng and Kaiming Tan, both of the Leal lab; and Rosângela M. R. Barbosa, Gabriel B. Faierstein, Marcelo H. S. Paiva, Duschinka R. D. Guedes, and Mônica M. Crespo, all of Brazil.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that people traveling to or living in areas with Zika virus (ZIKV) outbreaks or epidemics adopt preventive measures, including the use of insect repellents, to reduce or eliminate mosquito bites. Prior to the Feb. 16 published research, it was not known whether the most widely repellents are effective against ZIKV-infected mosquitoes, “in part because of the ethical concerns related to exposing a human subject's arm to infected mosquitoes in the standard arm-in-cage assay,” the researchers pointed out.
They used a previously developed, human subject-free behavioral assay, which mimics a human subject to evaluate the top two recommended insect repellents.
Scientists isolated the Zika virus (ZIKV) nearly seven decades ago from a sentinel rhesus monkey while they were trying to unravel the cycle of sylvan yellow fever virus in Uganda..
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito (Ae. aegypti and Ae. albopictus). These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. The virus can also be sexually transmitted.
- Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects.
- There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika.
- Local mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission has been reported in the continental United States.
That's what UC Davis chemical ecologist Walter Leal, co-chair of the International Congress of Entomology (ICE 2016) recently held in Orlando, Fla., wrote in his newly published opinion piece, titled "Zika Mosquito Vectors: the Jury Is Still Out" in F1000 Research.
Leal, a mosquito researcher and distinguished professor in the UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, co-chaired ICE 2016 with Alvin Simmons, research entomologist with the United States Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (USDA/ARS), U.S. Vegetable Laboratory in Charleston, S.C.
The conference, themed "Entomology Without Borders," drew 6,682 delegates from 102 countries. The last time ICE met in the United States was four decades ago. The venue then: Washington, D.C.
One of the symposia at the Orlando meeting was the Zika Symposium, "which covered multiple aspects of the Zika epidemic, including epidemiology, sexual transmission, genetic tools for reducing transmission, and particularly vector competence," Leal wrote. "While there was a consensus among participants that the yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti, is a vector of the Zika virus, there is growing evidence indicating that the range of mosquito vectors might be wider than anticipated. In particular, three independent groups from Canada, China, and Brazil presented and discussed laboratory and field data strongly suggesting that the southern house mosquito, Culex quinquefasciatus, also known as the common mosquito, is highly likely to be a vector in certain environments."
Leal based his opinion piece mainly on the current literature and the Zika Symposium at ICE 2016, which was organized by Constância Ayres, Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (FIOCRUZ-PE), Recife, Brazil (he collaborates with Ayres) and Adriana Costero, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md. The speakers included worldwide experts from the United States, Brazil, China and Canada.
Ironically, the Zika virus wasn't a household word or in most entomologists' vocabulary when Leal and Simmons began planning the ICE 2016 meeting several years ago.
Now scores of researchers are tackling the Zika virus (ZIKV), first isolated first from a febrile monkey and later from the mosquito Aedes africanus. "ZIKV was isolated from humans for the first time in 1954 during an outbreak of jaundice suspected of being yellow fever," Leal recounted.
"During the discussion at the end of the symposium, the forum was opened for questions and comments," Leal wrote. Scott Ritchie of James Cook University, Australia, asked “Is anyone looking for the virus in birds?”
"This question captures the sentiment that both questions were thought provoking, and we still do not have all or many answers when it comes to ZIKV. Hopefully, we will be better prepared when convening in Finland for ICE 2020. Wouldn't it be wonderful to report in Helsinki that mosquito vector populations have been reduced or eliminated, the Zika and other epidemics were contained, vaccines have been made available, and entomologists are ready to further improve the human condition by tackling other problems than the Zika epidemic?"
In a groundbreaking discovery, a scientific team of Brazilians and Brazilian-born chemical ecologist Walter Leal of the University of California, Davis, has announced that the Zika virus has been detected in wild-caught Culex quinquefasciatus mosquitoes in Recife, the epicenter of the Zika epidemic.
Scientists from the Fiocruz Institute, Pernambuco, confirmed the discovery July 21. The detection could have widespread repercussions, as the Culex mosquitoes are more common and widespread than the yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti, known as the primary carrier of the Zika virus.
Leal, who collaborates with Fiocruz Institute researcher Constancia Ayres in a National Institutes of Health-sponsored project on the investigation of Zika in the C. quinquefasciatus, said that the Brazilian lab earlier discovered that Culex had the capability of transmitting the virus. Although the scientists were able to infect the lab mosquitoes with the virus, they had not found the virus in wild-caught mosquitoes—until now.
“This could have major repercussions here in the United States and in other parts of the world,” said Leal, a distinguished professor in the UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology who is co-chairing the International Congress of Entomology meeting Sept. 25-30 in Orlando, Fla. The conference is expected to draw some 7000 entomologists throughout the world.
Leal said more work needs to be done to see if Culex mosquitoes are playing a role in the current epidemic. In an interview July 21 with health reporter Jennifer Yang of the Toronto Star, Canada's largest daily, he commented: “It looks like there were more vectors than we thought, and this is one of them. We don't have to panic, but we have to know. And now that we know, we have to take care of the Culex.”
A. aegypti is already established in California; it has spread to at least seven counties since its discovery in Clovis, Fresno County, in June 2013, according to medical entomologist Anthony Cornel of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center, Parlier.
The Zika virus, which can result in birth defects in pregnancy, can be transmitted through exposure to infected blood or sexual contact. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that between 400,000 and 1.3 million cases have been discovered across South, Central, and North America, where the disease was previously unknown.
Leal and a group of 18 students just hosted a Zika Public Awareness Symposium on May 26 at Giedt Hall, UC Davis campus. The podcast can be accessed at https://video.ucdavis.edu/media/Zika+Virus+Public+Awareness+Symposium/0_n3aupf5c