"Can Genetically Modified Mosquitoes End Disease?" spotlights the work of Gregory Lanzaro, director of the UC Davis Vector Genetics Laboratory, and a professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine's Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, and his "blood brother," longtime fellow mosquito researcher Anthony "Anton" Cornel, a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology (ENT) faculty, director of the UC Mosquito Control Research Laboratory, and researcher in the Vector Genetics Laboratory.
The New York Times' feature, written by global health reporter Stephanie Nolen, appears in the Sept. 29 edition.
An earlier news story announcing the $10.2 million grant to the UC Davis Vector Genetics Laboratory, from Open Philanthropy, was posted Jan. 25, 2022 on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website. In that story, Lanzaro, former ENT faculty member and former director of the now-folded UC Mosquito Research Program, explained that the research involves "the release of Anopheles mosquitoes engineered to prevent transmission of the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum on the islands. We are working in collaboration with the UC Irvine Malaria Initiative, a research consortium including scientists from UC Irvine, San Diego and Berkeley as well as Johns Hopkins University. We are working toward the application of advanced genetic tools aimed at the mosquito vector. It is our belief that this approach, used in conjunction with early malaria treatment and detection, can provide a cost effective, sustainable, and environmentally responsible program to ultimately eliminate malaria from Africa.”
"The malaria situation in São Tomé and Príncipe, an African island nation with a population of 200,000, epitomizes the current challenge in the global struggle against the disease," Nolen wrote. "The country is among the world's least developed, and it has depended on foreign aid to fight malaria. Various campaigns over the past 50 years drove cases down, only to have them resurge worse than ever when the benefactor moved on."
Lanzaro told Nolen that "we've been working on this for 30 years, and from the beginning we said, It has to work, but it also has to be inexpensive, and it has to be sustainable. And we believe we have it...We have got to get going. We can't just keep saying 10 more years, 10 more years. Six million people have died while we've been fiddling around.”
Cornel agrees. In the initial UC Davis news story, he commented: "The fight to reduce and possibly eliminate malaria continues and becomes especially challenging as efforts to reduce malaria morbidity have plateaued since 2015. Therefore, we must seriously consider new tools. One such tool is genetically modifying the major mosquito vector in the Afrotropics so that it cannot transmit malaria. The project aims to use genetically modified mosquito strategy to reduce and eliminate malaria from the Islands of São Tomé and Príncipe, as proof of concept, before using this technology on larger scales on mainland Africa."
The New York Times' story pointed out that "genetic modification is a controversial endeavor. Governments are hesitant, and few in Africa have laws to regulate the use of the technology. Its risks lie in the unknowns: Could the modified mosquito evolve in some way that has harmful effects on the rest of the ecosystem? Could it prompt a dangerous mutation in the malaria parasite, which will find a new way to spread to survive?"
"These fears," Nolen wrote, "are why the University of California team chose São Tomé and Príncipe for its experiment: The island nation is isolated and has limited international traffic. The team has also built in a plan to wipe out the population of its modified mosquitoes if there is a need to end the experiment for any reason."
See the entire news story, Can Genetically Modified Mosquitoes End Disease?
Attardo will discuss “The Mating Biology of Tsetse Flies--Insights into the Morphological, Biochemical, and Molecular Responses to Mating Stimuli in a Viviparous Disease Vector.”
"Research into the reproductive behavior of tsetse flies offers key insights into controlling diseases like African sleeping sickness," he writes in his abstract. "Unique among insects, these flies give birth to live offspring. During mating, males transfer a mix of sperm and other vital substances to the females. This study employs state-of-the-art techniques, including 3D scanning and genetic analysis, to monitor changes in the female fly's reproductive system over a 72-hour period post-mating. Findings indicate that mating sets off a chain of intricate changes in the female, affecting everything from biochemistry to gene activity. These changes prepare her for pregnancy and childbirth. The study opens up new avenues for understanding tsetse fly biology and offers potential strategies for disease control."
The seminar also will be on Zoom. The link:
The Attardo lab monitors the dynamics of vector insects at the levels of physiology, population genetics and environmental interactions.
Attardo is a global expert on vectorborne diseases, including his groundbreaking work on tsetse flies. He researches the invasive yellow mosquito, Aedes aegypti, which can carry such diseases as dengue, chikungunya, Zika and yellow fever. His work involves predicting insecticide resistance and tracking movements of genetically independent populations of aegypti throughout the state.
Attardo, who holds a doctorate in genetics from Michigan State University, where he researched the molecular biology of mosquito reproduction, joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology in 2017 from the Yale School of Public Health's Department of Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases.
He received the 2022 Medical, Urban, and Veterinary Entomology Award from the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America, which encompasses 11 Western states, plus parts of Canada and Mexico, and U.S. territories.
For any technical issues regarding Zoom, contact seminar coordinator Brian Johnson at email@example.com.
Professor Bond is serving a 2023-2025 term with president Linda Rayor of Cornell University's Department of Entomology, and then will assume the presidency. Bond specializes in the evolutionary diversification of terrestrial arthropods, specifically spiders, millipedes, and tenebrionid beetles. Rayor, a behavioral ecologist, focuses her research on the evolution of sociality in spiders.
AAS has played a huge role in Bond's career, with lifelong friends, colleagues, and collaborators who extend back nearly 30 years. "I consider it an honor to serve as AAS president."
AAS, founded in 1972, aims “to further the study of arachnids, foster closer cooperation and understanding between amateur and professional arachnologists, and to publish the Journal of Arachnology, according to its website. The journal is published three times a year.
A member of AAS since 1993, Bond co-hosted the 2022 AAS meeting at UC Davis, which included an outreach event, “Eight-Legged Encounters,” at the Bohart Museum of Entomology.
Bond joined the UC Davis faculty in 2018 after a seven-year academic career at Auburn University, Ala. He served as professor of biology, director of the Auburn University Museum of Natural History (2011-2105); chair of the Department of Biological Sciences from January 2016 to July 2018; and as curator of arachnids and myriapods (centipedes, millipedes, and related animals) from August 2011 to July 2018.
Bond also is the co-editor-in-chief of the journal Insect Systematics and Diversity, published by the Entomological Society of America. He and co-editor Hojun Song of Texas A&M began serving their four-year terms in 2022.
A veteran of the U.S. Army, Bond served as a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter crew chief upon graduation from high school.
Jason received his bachelor's degree in biological sciences, cum laude, in 1993 from Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, and his master's degree in biology in 1995 from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg. He earned his doctorate in evolutionary systematics and genetics in 1999 from Virginia Tech.
Research in his lab currently focuses on the California trapdoor spider fauna, specifically species delimitation, phylogeography, systematics and taxonomy; Bond has described many new spider taxa to include new families, genera, and more than 50 species.
The podcast, "The Buzz on Native Bees in Your Neighborhood," is online.
"When I say 'bees,' you probably think of a neat stack of white hive boxes and the jars of honey on the store shelves, right?" Flatow began. "But there's a lot more to bees than that. Because around the world, there are over 20,000 known bee species, and 4,000 of them are native to the U.S. And while these native bees that live in the wild play a key role in pollinating our plants, they don't get a ton of recognition or support like the ones that live in a box."
Professor Williams discussed a number of bee species, including bumble bees, carpenter bees, squash bees, mining bees ("bees that burrow into the ground or soil") and mason bees and leafcutter bees.
Mason bees, Williams said, build their nests "partly out of mud, which then dries. And the leafcutter bees are chewing pieces of leaves and making their nests out of those leaf pieces, either as whole chunks of leaves or as chewed up bits of leaves. We have a series of other small to large bees that nest on the ground or nest above ground that fall into other families. But probably those are the most familiar for most people."
Williams called attention to research led by his then graduate student, and now postdoctoral fellow, Maureen Page, who compared "the quality of honey bees at pollinating flowers versus the quality of other bees. And in general, we find that honey bees are sort of equal or slightly less good than many other bees. And the old adage, the jack of all trades is the master of none--the honey bee is really that jack of all trades. It's very wide in the number of flowers that it will visit, but doesn't tend to be particularly effective on any one flower visit relative to some of the other bees we have."
The alfalfa leafcutter bee "is a really effective pollinator relative to the honeybees at pollinating alfalfa," he told Flatow.
"So your bumble bee is sort of the lab animal, then," Flatow commented. "It's not a white mouse. It's a bumble bee."
Williams agreed. "It's become a pretty useful organism for studying things in the lab. I should say the other group that we work a lot with are mason bees and leafcutter bees. And because of the way they nest, they have been really useful for studying other sorts of questions. So there are a couple of groups that we work well with."
Williams also touched on the threats faced by native bees. In addition to pesticides (insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides), "they're threatened by the loss of reliable foraging floral resources," Williams said. "They are threatened by a set of emerging diseases. And this is, again, where the honey bee gets a lot of attention, right? This colony collapse may be resulting from certain viruses, but wild bees, native bees, also have some substantial problems with certain viruses and also other kinds of pathogens."
"And then a really big one is climate change. So we have to fully recognize that changes in rainfall and also changes in temperature patterns seem to be stressing bees in different parts of the U.S., for sure."
Flatow, whose colleagues say has "revived many an office plant at death's door," asked: "Can I plant a little patch of wild flowers in a pot or in the yard and really help out?"
"This is also one of these questions that's a complex one, but we'll try not to make it too complex," Williams said. "I mean, in general, planting flowers for bees is a useful thing. The one thing we'd want to be careful about if we were planting flowers in the yard is that we were also being careful about the use of some of these chemical pesticides. But I think also recognizing the importance of natural areas and broader stewardship of habitat for bees across the landscape is really important. And this tricky one with climate change, too--what are we going to do? We don't solve climate change with the sorts of things that we would do– small-scale actions--to help bees."
"But we can do some things probably--providing shady spots, where they have what we call microclimates that are maybe protecting them from times where there are heat waves that are particularly problematic--things like that that could be useful."
Williams, who joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty in 2009, was named a Chancellor's Fellow in 2015, a five-year program supporting his research, teaching and public service. He was named a a Highly Cited Researcher by Clarivate Analytics in 2018, and a Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences in 2021.
A native of Madison, Wisc., he received his doctorate in ecology and evolution from Stony Brook University, New York in 1999.
- Neal Williams, biography, Wikipedia
- Neal Williams lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
- Evidence of exploitative competition between honey bees and native bees in two California landscapes by Maureen Page and Neal Williams, June 2023, Journal of Animal Ecology
- Honey bee introductions displace native bees and decrease pollination of a native wildflower by Maureen Page and Neal Williams, December 2022, Journal of Ecology
- A meta-analysis of single visit pollination effectiveness comparing honey bees and other floral visitors by Maureen Page, Charlie Nicholson, Ross Brennan and Neal Williams, October 2021, American Journal of Botany
All seminars will be in-person and will take place on Mondays at 4:10 p.m. in Room 122 Briggs Hall, and also will be broadcast on Zoom. The exception: UC Davis doctoral alumnus' Charlotte Alberts' seminar on Nov. 13 will be Zoom only. A pre-seminar coffee will take place from 3:30 to 4:10 p.m. in 158 Briggs.
The Zoom link:
Monday, Oct. 2
Research scientist at Chicago Botanic Garden and professor of instruction, Northwestern University
Title: "Understanding the Dynamics of Plant-Animal Interactions in a Changing World"
Abstract: "Plant-pollinator interactions are ubiquitous and play an important role in ecosystem functioning across the globe. Critically, plants, pollinators, and their interactions face numerous threats in our changing world, including those related to climate change. However, our understanding of the consequences of these threats to plant-pollinator interactions has been hampered because we lack knowledge of the basic ecology of many of these organisms, and how their ecology responds to changing abiotic and biotic conditions. We will investigate these issues in this seminar."
Monday, Oct. 9
Associate professor, and medical entomologist/geneticist, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
Title: “The Mating Biology of Tsetse Flies – Insights into the Morphological, Biochemical, and Molecular Responses to Mating Stimuli in a Viviparous Disease Vector”
Abstract: "Research into the reproductive behavior of tsetse flies offers key insights into controlling diseases like African sleeping sickness. Unique among insects, these flies give birth to live offspring. During mating, males transfer a mix of sperm and other vital substances to the females. This study employs state-of-the-art techniques, including 3D scanning and genetic analysis, to monitor changes in the female fly's reproductive system over a 72-hour period post-mating. Findings indicate that mating sets off a chain of intricate changes in the female, affecting everything from biochemistry to gene activity. These changes prepare her for pregnancy and childbirth. The study opens up new avenues for understanding tsetse fly biology and offers potential strategies for disease control."
Monday, Oct. 16
Research entomologist, U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station
Title: "Pollen Nutritional ecology of Bee-Blower Interactions"
Abstract: "Pollen provides bees their primary source of protein and lipid macronutrients, essential for development, fitness, and resistance to stress. Yet, pollen macronutrient quality differs substantially among host-plant species. And thus, bees may be sensitive to their nutritional needs and differentially forage among host plants to obtain appropriate nutrition. In this presentation, I will highlight my research that has linked bumble bee host plant foraging preferences to pollen nutritional quality and individual and colony health. Using this as a theoretical framework, I will present recent research where I show that floral pollen nutritional quality can help explain the structure and patterns of bee-wildflower community interactions among diverse populations; and how this research can inform conservation practices. Finally, I will discuss how the quality of pollen that bees collect may differ between and remain consistent within species populations and help explain their history of floral preferences."
Monday, Oct. 23
Assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Environmental Toxicology Department
Title: "Disarming the Defenses of Resistant Pests: Rational Design of Inhibitors for ABC Transporter Proteins in the Varroa Mite"
Abstract: "Varroa mites pose a significant global menace to honeybee colonies, causing colony losses, ecological imbalances, and food scarcity. Escalating pesticide resistance in these mites necessitates innovative strategies to bolster acaricide effectiveness. Small molecule synergists that heighten mite susceptibility to acaricides offer a promising solution by amplifying chemical treatment efficacy, thus reducing overall pesticide demand. Present synergist development strategies primarily target metabolic enzyme inhibition to restore insect sensitivity to pesticides. Our research focuses on ABC efflux transporters, pivotal in cellular xenobiotic handling, as a new approach. We aim to establish a toxicokinetic pipeline to uncover novel synergists and validate their ability to increase Varroa mite vulnerability to existing miticides. By capitalizing on synergistic interactions between sensitizing agents and acaricides, we aim to equip beekeepers and regulators with a sustainable toolbox to combat Varroa resistance, ultimately fostering long-term honey bee well-being."
Monday, Oct. 20
Department of Biology, San Diego State University
Title: "Ring Species, Ring Speciation or a Ring of Species? An Example with California Mygalomorph Spiders."
Abstract: "Ring species can be defined as a chain of interbreeding populations which expands along two pathways around a geographic barrier, where terminal forms can coexist without interbreeding. A broken ring species model preserves the geographic setting and fundamental features of an idealized model but accommodates varying degrees of gene flow restriction through evolutionary time. Members of the genus Calisoga are distributed around the Central Valley of California, and previous genetic studies have shown that this is a lineage-rich complex of mygalomorph spiders, with evidence to suggest that Calisoga might be a case of ring speciation. Here we examine broken ring species dynamics in Calisoga spiders, using UCEs and mitogenomes we test key predictions of timing, ancestry, connectivity and terminal overlap. I will discuss why ring species should not be viewed as homogeneous entities, but rather as heterogeneous units with different predicted evolutionary dynamics in different geographic parts of the ring."
Monday, Nov. 6
Research Microbiologist at the USDA-ARS United State Horticultural Lab in Fort Pierce, FL.
Title: "Managing Soilborne Pathogens and Pests with Anaerobic Soil Disinfestation (ASD)"
Abstract: "Growers consider soilborne disease management one of their main production issues. It is estimated that members of the soilborne pest complex (SPC), weeds, nematodes, fungi, oomycetes, bacteria, viruses, and protozoans, account for 10-20% crop loss annually worldwide. Methyl bromide was used to manage the SPC, however, it was discovered that it contributed to ozone depletion, thus was banned worldwide. Currently, no registered alternative chemical fumigant is as effective as methyl bromide for SPC management. Anaerobic soil disinfestation (ASD) is biologically based alternative to soil fumigation. ASD consists of amending the soil with a labile carbon source, tarping the soil with a plastic film, and watering the soil under the film to field capacity. During the ASD process the soil microbiome undergoes populations shifts and various anti-microbial compounds are produced. ASD has shown to be as effective as methyl bromide SPC management. This presentation will discuss the history of ASD and current research."
Monday, Nov. 13 (Zoom only)
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Title: "Assassin Fly (Diptera: Asilidae) Systematics and Predator Ecology"
Abstract: "Assassin flies (Diptera: Asilidae) are a diverse family that plays an essential ecological role as top aerial and venomous predators. Little is known about the evolution of their predatory habits. This study provides a novel phylogenetic hypothesis of Asilidae along with prey preference and ancestral state reconstruction in a maximum likelihood framework. This study is based on 176 assassin fly species, 35 Asiloidea outgroup species, 3,400 prey preference records accumulated from literature and museum collections, and approximately 7,913 bp of nuclear DNA from five genes (18S and 28S rDNA, AATS, CAD, and EF-1a protein-encoding DNA) and mitochondrial DNA from one gene (COI). Of the 12 asilid subfamilies included in the analysis the monophyly of six was supported. We used ancestral state reconstruction and stochastic character mapping to test whether a polyphagous arthropod predator is the ancestral state for Asilidae. Assassin flies are polyphagous arthropod predators, with specialized arthropod prey preferences evolving 20 independently across the Asilidae phylogeny. I will also summarize my other dissertation chapter, a review of Nearctic Saropogon with a new species description."
Monday, Nov. 20
Etienne GJ Danchin
Evolutionary biologist working with genomes: INRAE (French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment) senior scientist and scientific leader of the GAME team (Genomics and Adaptive Molecular Evolution) at ISA (Institut Sophia Agrobiotech), in Sophia-Antipolis, on the French Riviera.
Title: "Parasitic Success in the Absence of Sex: What Have We Learned from Nematode Genomes?"
Abstract: "Root-knot nematodes are devastating plant parasites of worldwide importance. Interestingly, species that cause most damages reproduce entirely asexually. These nematodes are extremely polyphagous and have a wide geographic range. Theoretically, in the absence of sexual recombination animal species have lower adaptive potential and are predicted to undergo genome decay. To investigate how these species can be successful parasites on many hosts and in many places around the world, we have sequenced and analyzed their genomes. Out analysis confirmed these species are polyploid hybrids and the combination of several genotypes from different species might provide them with a general-purpose genotype. However, this does not explain how with a theoretically fixed genotype these species are able to overcome resistance genes or adapt to a new host. Therefore, we analyzed genomic variability across different populations and the possible mechanisms underlying genomic variations. In this presentation, I will provide an overview of our findings."
Monday, Nov. 27
Senior Scientist in the Institute of Plant Sciences, The Volcani Center, Israel
Title: "Improving Cross-Pollination in Deciduous Fruit Trees"
Abstract: "Tree crops belonging to the Rosaceae, such as almond, pear, apple, and sweet cherry, depend on cross-pollination by insects to set fruit. The primary pollinator of the crops is the honey bee (Apis mellifera). However, due to harsh climatic conditions during flowering, limited movement of bees between cultivars, low preference of the bees for flowers of the target crop, and limited overlap in flowering between the cultivars, pollination is a primary factor limiting yield. Our group has tested multiple approaches to mitigate this problem: Using 'Pollen dispensers,' sequential introduction of beehives to the orchards, selection of honeybee strains with higher preference for the target crop, introduction of bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) colonies and phosphorous fertilization to increase nectar secretion and improve crop-flower attractiveness. I will summarize the effects of those methods on fruit set and yield in apples, almonds, and pears."
Monday, Dec. 4
Professor in the Section of Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution, Division of Biological Sciences, University of California San Diego, and associate dean in the Division of Biological Sciences
Title: "Danger, Dopamine, and Dance: New Insights from the Magic Well of Honey Bee Communication"
Abstract: "Karl von Frisch referred to the waggle dance as the 'magic well' for the insights that it provides not only on honey bees, but on the general cognitive complexity that social insects are capable of. New research demonstrates that the neurotransmitter, dopamine, the “pleasure molecule” plays a similar hedonic role in honey bees as it does in many vertebrates, regulating the perception of danger and the anticipation of food rewards as revealed in the excitatory waggle dance and the associated, inhibitory stop signal. I will also discuss new data showing that the honey bee waggle dance is partially learned and has elements that may be culturally transmitted. Together, these findings, demonstrate that the waggle dance can teach us a great deal about shared cognitive mechanisms and the importance of social learning across taxa."
For seminars technical issues, contact Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Johnson, a leading expert on the behavior, genomics and evolution of honey bees, is the author of a newly published book, “Honey Bee Biology,” released June 6 by Princeton University Press. Johnson joined the UC Davis faculty in 2011 after conducting postdoctoral research at UC San Diego and UC Berkeley. He focuses his research on the behavior, evolution, theoretical biology and genomics of the honey bee.
“Our lab studies the genetics, behavior, and evolution of honey bees,” Johnson writes on his website. “We use experimental and theoretical approaches to all the questions we explore. Current work in our lab focuses on the evolution and genetic basis of social behavior using comparative and functional genomics, task allocation using behavioral and theoretical approaches, and honey bee health using a combination of genetics, epidemiology, and physiological approaches.”
(Editor's Note: The Leigh seminar, initially set Oct. 9 and to be presented by Michael Hoffmann, emeritus professor, Cornell University, has been postponed. He will be speaking on "Our Changing Menu: Using the Power of Food to Confront Climate Change." His abstract: "Food is loved and needed, it is emotive, and it is deeply embedded in our cultures and family histories. However, not enough people know the subtle to profound changes happening to their food as the world rapidly warms. It is an ideal messenger that can help make climate change relevant to everyone — we all eat. Results of our national survey showed that regardless of political affiliation, most people are concerned about climate change effects on their food choices, they would pay more for good grown using climate friendly practices, and they want to learn more about the future of their food. An audience awaits to hear this story. We can all tap the power of food to bring about the rapid and at scale changes that are desperately needed to keep our favorite foods on the menu, and coincidentally, keep the planet livable."