But if you're UC Davis entomologist-geneticist Geoffrey Attardo, you do.
He led landmark research published Sept. 2 in the journal Genome Biology that provides new insight into the genomics of the tsetse fly, an insect that transmits the parasite that causes human and animal trypanosomiasis. In humans, it's commonly known as sleeping sickness, and if not treated, it's fatal.
Tsetse flies, Glossina sp., are of great medical and economic importance, wrote Attardo and co-authors Adly M. M. Abd-Alla of the Insect Pest Control Laboratory, Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, Vienna, Austria, and Serap Aksoy of the Yale School of Public Health, New Haven, Conn. They related that since the implementation of surveillance and record-keeping in the 20th century, “millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa” have died from sleeping sickness.
Their research compares and analyzes the genomes of six species of tsetse flies and could lead to better insights into disease prevention and control. “It was a behemoth project, spanning six to seven years,” said Attardo, an assistant professor in the Department of Entomology and Nematology. “This project represents the combined efforts of a consortium of 56 researchers throughout the United States, Europe, Africa and China.”
“The aim of these studies,” the authors wrote, “was to generate and mine the genomic sequences of six species of tsetse flies with different ecological niches, host preferences, and vectorial capacities. The goals of the analyses performed here are to identify the novel genetic features specific to tsetse flies and to characterize the differences between the Glossina species to correlate the genetic changes with phenotypic differences in these divergent species.”
“Expanded genomic discoveries reveal the genetics underlying Glossina biology and provide a rich body of knowledge for basic science and disease control,” the scientists concluded. “They also provide insight into the evolutionary biology underlying novel adaptations and are relevant to applied aspects of vector control such as trap design and discovery of novel pest and disease control strategies.”
Attardo, who joined the UC Davis faculty in 2017 after serving 13 years with the Yale School of Public Health, said the massive research project involved “the complete sequencing and assembly of six Glossina species, including the two primary vectors of human African tryapnosomiasis, three major vectors of animal trypanosomiasis and one ancestral tsetse species which demonstrates some resistance to the species of trypanosomes responsible for human and some animal forms of the disease.”
- A clearer definition of the Glossina phylogenetic tree and placement of a controversial species.
- Identification of rapidly evolving regions of the tsetse genome relative to Drosophila.
- Identification of Glossina specific genes and their functions as well as expansions and contractions of gene families in tsetse relative to other flies.
“We discuss the functional implications of these changes and how they relate to tsetses' physiological adaptations and evolutionary history,” Attardo noted.
“We discovered that the rhodopsin gene family which is associated with vision/color detection shows conservation in motion detection and tracking associated genes.” Attardo said. “However, the gene coding for the protein that detects blue wavelengths is divergent relative to houseflies and shows the highest variance between Glossina species of all the rhodopsin genes. This is significant as the color blue is used as an attractant to bring tsetse into the traps used for control. It suggests that different species may be tuned/attracted to different wavelengths of blue.”
They also analyzed the genes associated with tsetse immunity and the relative differences in comparison with houseflies and fruit flies. “We see many immune genes missing in Glossina and increased copy numbers of genes associated with negative regulation of immune function. We think this may be associated with the evolution of obligate symbiosis as a way to protect their symbionts.”
“We also found extreme conservation of milk proteins between all sequenced species,” the UC Davis medical entomologist said. “On the flip side, male reproductive proteins (seminal proteins) appear to be very rapidly evolving relative to the rest of the genome. The copy numbers of these genes also change significantly between species.”
The scientists also found an overall reduction of olfactory associated genes and protein modifications specific to salivary proteins in the two species that vector human trypanosomiasis.
In 1995, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 60 million people were at risk of sleeping sickness, with an estimated 300,000 new cases per year in Africa, and fewer than 30,000 cases diagnosed and treated. Due to increased control, only 3796 cases were reported in 2014, with less than 15,000 estimated cases, according to WHO statistics.
The parasitic disease “mostly affects poor populations living in remote rural areas of Africa,” according to WHO. “Untreated, it is usually fatal. Travelers also risk becoming infected if they venture through regions where the insect is common. Generally, the disease is not found in urban areas, although cases have been reported in suburban areas of big cities in some disease endemic countries.”
Several National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants, awarded to Attardo and Aksoy, funded the research. They also drew funding from the McDonnell Genome Institute at Washington University School of Medicine; the National Research Foundation, the Swiss National Science Foundation, and the Slovak Research and Development Agency.
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.”
Hazeltine, a U.S. Navy veteran who studied entomology in the UC Berkeley graduate program, 1950-53, and received his doctorate in entomology from Purdue University in 1962, managed the Lake County Mosquito Abatement District from 1961-64 and the Butte County Mosquito Abatement District from 1966-1992. He was an ardent supporter of the judicious use of public health pesticides to protect public health. He continued work on related projects until his death in 1994.
His legacy lives on through his family's establishment of the Bill Hazeltine Student Research Awards to UC Davis graduate student researchers. Since 1997, the awards have totaled a little over $46,000 to 25 recipients.
Sandy Olkowski, Stephanie Kurniawan and Maribel "Mimi" Portilla, graduate students in the Department of Entomology and Nematology, received the coveted awards in both 2015 and 2016. The three recently lunched at a Davis restaurant with Hazeltine's sons, Craig of Scottsdale, Ariz.,and Lee Hazeltine of Woodland. The graduate students discussed their research and goals and thanked them for the Hazeltine family's support.
Sandy Olkowski is working on her doctorate in entomology, studying with major professor Thomas Scott, now emeritus professor of entomology.
“While working for a pediatrician when I was living in Thailand, I became aware of the significant disease burden that dengue places on populations in developing countries,” Olkowski said. “I returned to the United States with the goal of doing whatever I could to alleviate that burden, and subsequently applied to UC Davis because of the ground-breaking dengue research of Thomas Scott. I conducted research for my senior honors thesis in the Scott lab while completing a bachelor's degree in economics, with a focus on international development. I then continued on into a PhD in Entomology, with a designated emphasis in biology of vector-borne diseases. I am entering the 4th year of my PhD. I recently returned from 10 months of fieldwork in Iquitos, Peru.”
“My research is focused on dengue disease surveillance,” Olkowski said. “I am interested in identifying and quantifying ways that human behavior affects surveillance data. Rapid detection of increases in dengue cases is very important for public health officials, so they can implement vector control in a timely manner, but delays in treatment seeking by patients and clinical diagnosis by physicians may be impeding that process. I hope that the results of my research can be directly applied. Eventually, I would like to be able to sit down with public health officials and discuss evidence-based improvements to dengue surveillance.”
Stephanie Kurniawan is working on her master's degree, studying with major professors Ed Lewis and Shirley Luckhart. “Though I have lived in California my entire life, I often visited relatives in Indonesia,” she said. “During one trip when I was in middle school, I got dengue and had to be hospitalized for several days. No one in America knew about this disease, not even my pediatrician. This made me interested in vector-borne diseases and mosquitoes.”
Kurniawan went on to receive her bachelor's degree in animal biology with a minor in medical and veterinary entomology at UC Davis.
“I am adapting methods for estimating age structure of Anopheles mosquito populations using the captive cohort method developed by Dr. James Carey. It is a potentially inexpensive and practical alternative for real-time surveillance of mosquito populations. I currently am testing this method on local populations of Anopheles freeborni from Sutter and Butte County rice fields.”
Maribel "Mimi" Portilla
Maribel "Mimi" Portilla, who holds a master's degree in public health, is seeking her doctorate. She studies with major professor Sharon Lawler.
"Just like many scientists, I am driven by curiosity, but often found myself wondering how I could apply myself in a way that would help others," she said. "I discovered public health, which incorporated my love for biology and my growing interest in social issues. At UC Berkeley School of Public Health, I was able to study health and disease within a larger context, and learned to consider the biological and the social determinants of disease. As I completed my degree, I realized I really missed the research experiences I had as an undergraduate. So, I looked for a way to bridge my new-found passion for public health and basic science research. This led me to UC Davis, where I learned about One Health and am now pursuing a Ph.D in medical entomology. Medical entomology is a perfect example of a One Health field, where I can seek out how interactions between humans and animals impact health. I am particularly interested in researching how disease risk may change as people manipulate the environment."
"For example, environmental manipulation is a classic pest control technique, yet the indirect effects of changing the environment are not always well understood," Portilla said. "I am focusing on how the management practices of the invasive exotic weeds, Brazilian waterweed (Egeria densa) and water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes), in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta impact mosquitoes and their habitat. My goal is to better understand the ecology of these management practices in order to inform and create better techniques to reduce both mosquito and weed problems."
"Due to my diverse interests and skill set, I am very open about my career choices. I have extensive teaching experience, and would love to be a professor with both teaching and research opportunities. However, there are many opportunities beyond academia. My research is introducing me to many other ways in which my work and research can help keep people safe and healthy. I hope to develop a strong research skill set while at UC Davis, and find a career path which takes advantage of my diverse abilities and love for One Health and Public Health."
We all know that graduate students scramble for funds to complete their research and education. Sometimes they have little or no funds. What a wonderful project the Hazeltine family sponsors!
The complete list of recipients:
- 2016: Sandy Olkowski, Maribel “Mimi” Portilla and Stephanie Kurniawan
- 2015: Sandy Olkowski, Maribel “Mimi” Portilla and Stephanie Kurniawan
- 2014: Martha Armijos, Elizabeth “Lizzy” Glennon and Rosanna Kwok
- 2013: Jenny Carlson, Elizabeth “Lizzy” Glennon and Sandy Olkowski
- 2012: Jenny Carlson, Kelly Liebman and Sandy Olkowski
- 2011: Brittany Nelms Mills, Kelly Liebman and Jenny Carlson
- 2010: Tara Thiemann and Jenny Carlson
- 2009: Kelly Liebman and Wei Xu
- 2008: Ashley Horton and Tara Thiemann
- 2007: Lisa Reimer and Jacklyn Wong
- 2006: Christopher Barker and Tania Morgan
- 2005: Nicole Mans
- 2004: Sharon Minnick
- 2003: Hannah Burrack
- 2002: Holly Ganz and Andradi Villalobos
- 2001: Laura Goddard and Linda Styer
- 2000: Laura Goddard
- 1999: Linda Boose Styer
- 1998: Larisa Vredevoe
- 1997: John Gimnig
William Hazeltine II, born Sept. 4, 1926 in San Jose, was the youngest of six children born to Karl Snyder Hazeltine and Rachel Josephine Crawford Hazeltine. Karl, a graduate of the University of California, served on the faculty of San Jose State University, where he taught agricultural and natural science. Rachel, a graduate of San Jose State, was a teacher.
Bruce Eldridge, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, eulogized William Hazeltine at the 2005 annual meeting of the American Mosquito Control Association (April 4) as "a man who made a difference." His talk, illustrated with photos, was published in the 2006 edition of the Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association. (See PDF)
"He was a medical entomologist who had a varied career in the field of mosquito biology and control, but he will forever be remembered as a man who fought in the trenches of the pesticide controversy from 1960 until the end of his life, and who made the safe and efficient use of pesticides in public health a personal crusade," Eldridge said.
He's a medical entomologist through and through.
So when UC Davis medical entomologist and emeritus professor William "Bill" Reisen, internationally known for his mosquito research and public service, received the Meritorious Service Award from the American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA) at the 2016 annual meeting in Savannah, Ga., it was an honor so very well deserved.
Indeed, AMCA's mission could be Reisen's mission. The AMCA, founded in 1935, is a scientific and educational public service organization. Its mission is “to provide leadership, information, and education leading to the enhancement of health and quality of life through the suppression of mosquitoes and other vector-transmitted diseases, and the reduction of annoyance levels caused by mosquitoes and other vectors and pests of public health importance.”
Reisen accepted the plaque from AMCA President Kenneth Linthicum. director of the Center for Medical, Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology, USDA-Agricultural Research Service. The plaque is inscribed with: “In recognition of outstanding service to the AMCA and for contributions to the science of mosquito ecology and bionomics and to the epidemiology and control of arboviruses."
Reisen accepted the award on behalf of his collaborators, colleagues and staff at UC Berkeley and UC Davis, and acknowledged “the important impact that the Mosquito and Vector Control Association of California and the California Department of Public Health has had on our program's success.”
Working closely with the Mosquito and Vector Control Association of California and the California Department of Public Health, Reisen was instrumental in molding the California arbovirus surveillance diagnostics, data management and reporting statewide into an effective decision support system for intervention.
Reisen, retired from UC Davis in 2014 from some of his responsibilities, but he's the kind of person who will probably never retire, and that's a good thing for us and a bad thing for the mosquitoes. Reisen is a professor emeritus with the Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology (PMI), School of Veterinary Medicine, and a former director of the Center for Vectorborne Diseases. He continues to serve as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Medical Entomology, published by Entomological Society of America. He has served as a graduate student advisor for the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology as well as the Epidemiology Graduate Group.
A native of New Jersey, Reisen holds a doctorate in zoology (1974) from the University of Oklahoma, Norman, with a focus on medical microbiology and ecology.
Throughout his career, Reisen directed collaborative projects ranging from field evaluations of genetically modified mosquitoes to aerial applications of insecticides, the vector competence of mosquitoes for endemic and newly introduced viruses, established new molecular surveillance testing paradigms for arboviruses, and initiated interactive networks for sharing surveillance data with mosquito control agencies and public health officials to speed mosquito control response times and to minimize disease risk to humans, according to Craig Downs, general manager of the Contra Costa MVCAC District.
His colleagues can attest to his work. Said Downs: “Several examples of his continual scientific contributions include: the effects of climate variation on arthropod-borne pathogen transmission, modeling efforts for predicting arbovirus risk, the application of insecticides for reducing the disease burden of West Nile virus in California, the use of liquid suspension array technologies for the identification of mosquito blood meals and his keen observation of the role of stagnant swimming pools as breeding sites for Culex spp. vectors in Kern County."
Reisen's medical entomology career includes the U.S. Air Force, University of Maryland School of Medicine, UC Berkeley School of Public Health and the Center for Vectorborne Diseases at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. He directed the Arbovirus Field Station in Bakersfield from 1980-2013 and the Center for Vectorborne Diseases, based at UC Davis, from 2009 to 2014.
In recognition of his contributions to research, service and graduate training, Reisen was awarded Lifetime Award for Achievement in Medical Entomology and the Distinguished Service Award by the Society for Vector Ecology; Fellow, Entomological Society of America; Academic Federation Award for Excellence in Research, University of California, Davis; John N. Belkin Award for Excellence in Vector Ecology, American Mosquito Control Association; and the Harry Hoogstraal Medal, American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
Thomas Scott, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis and known for his work on the dengue/yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti, described Reisen as “an international leader in mosquito ecology and arbovirus epidemiology. His contributions to his field of study are stunning. His prolific, detailed field and laboratory studies have reshaped the way we think about mosquito-borne pathogen transmission dynamics. He has greatly improved disease prevention programs.”
Yes, Bill Reisen has greatly improved disease prevention programs and the lives of many people, far and wide, and too many to mention. Outstanding service. Outstanding contributions. Outstanding mentor.
The species has spread to at least seven counties in California since June 2013, says UC Davis medical entomologist Anthony Cornel of the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center, Parlier, and the UC Davis Department of Entomology.
“It's an issue of great concern, especially as current control methods do not appear to be working well," says Cornel, who collaborates on research projects in Clovis, Fresno County, with the Consolidated Mosquito Abatement District. The district, based in Fresno, covers 1,058 square miles, including part of Kings County.
“We can't predict how far this mosquito will go in California,” he says, but it has spread “south of Fresno to San Diego. The furtherest site north is Madera in the Central Valley, but it's also been found in the more coastal area of Menlo Park in San Mateo.”
As far north as Sacramento?
“I don't want to exclude the possibility that it may spread as far north as Sacramento,” said Cornel, who collects, rears and researches mosquitoes from all over the world, including the United States, Mali, Cameroon, Comoros, Tanzania, South Africa and Brazil. “We need to see if it overwinters as eggs or adults or both.”
Infected Aedes aegypti can transmit dengue, yellow fever, Zika and chikungunya viruses. The Zika virus was first identified in Uganda in 1947 in rhesus monkeys, according to the World Health Organization. It was subsequently identified in humans in 1952 in Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania. Outbreaks of Zika virus disease have been recorded in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific.
Although the mosquito species is in California, it's important to point out that there are no reported cases of locally transmitted Zika virus in the state or in contiguous United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The cases have all involved travelers returning home from countries plagued with disease outbreaks.
Cornel and his colleagues published a 27-slide document, “Surveillance and Control of Aedes aegypti Mosquito in Clovis, Calif.,” on Feb. 8 in F1000 Research, http://f1000research.com/slides/5-149. They called attention to the widespread invasion and establishment of the species in California. The research, illustrated with maps, is the work of Cornel and Yoosook Lee of UC Davis; Stephen Dobson of the University of Kentucky; Corey Bansfield of MosqMate Inc. and Jodi Holeman, Mark Amireno, Charles Smith and Stephen Mulligan III of the Consolidated Mosquito Control District.
The California team collaborates with University of Kentucky scientists to develop novel control strategies. One trial involves coating male mosquitoes with insect growth regulators, which are passed on to the females. Males are also infested with a biopesticide or “a good bacteria-like organism,” Wolbachia. “The male transfers it to the female, which affects the ovaries and negatively affects immature development,” Cornel explains. “It's not new, but it's not been employed in large trials.”
The researchers target mosquito breeding sites, primarily yard drains. “Despite the drought and the elimination of visible bodies of water, such as bird baths, pet bowls and flower pots, there's a major issue: yard drains,” Cornel says. “Yard drains installed in new home developments empty into the gutter or street and are cryptic breeding sites for mosquitoes.” He speculates that these mosquitoes are breeding underground.
“These drains are not easily accessible and we can't see the mosquitoes,” Cornel points out. “We need to blow out the water and plug these yard drains to eliminate these breeding sites.” He suggests that cities everywhere address this public safety issue and “redesign the yard drains.”
It's crucial for the public to become involved, Cornel emphasizes. “We have to focus on public education. We have to get the message across to eliminate mosquito breeding sites. We can't go to every house. We must rely on the public to eliminate the breeding sites.”
It's possible—but he hopes not—that what is now a “mosquito nuisance” will result in a disease outbreak.