"We are working with scientists and public health authorities in STP to establish the conditions that would facilitate an informed societal and government decision about a proposed release of Anopheles mosquitoes engineered to prevent transmission of the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum on the islands,” said principal investigator Gregory Lanzaro, director of the Vector Genetics Laboratory and a PMI professor.
This award will be used to extend their ongoing entomological, engagement and capacity building work through 2025.
“We are working in collaboration with the UC Irvine Malaria Initiative (UCIMI), a research consortium including scientists from UC Irvine, San Diego and Berkeley as well as Johns Hopkins University,” Lanzaro said. “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.”
Said Ana Kormos, engagement program manager and lead author of the proposal: “These funds provide the UCIMI program with support to strengthen our existing relationship-based approach to the co-development of this technology and ensures that our partners in STP lead the decision-making processes involved in all aspects of the research. This is a huge step forward in advancing a truly collaborative approach to translational research.”
The Vector Genetics Laboratory is engaged in research and training in the areas of population and molecular genetics, genomics and bioinformatics of insect vectors of human and animal disease. The website: “We have developed a program aimed at expanding knowledge that may be applied to improving control of disease vectors and that also addresses problems of interest in the field of evolutionary genetics. We are currently engaged in a range of projects, but our major research focus is on vectors of malaria in Africa."
Directors of the Vector Genetics Laboratory research programs are Lanzaro and Anthony "Anton" Cornel, a research entomologist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and director of the Mosquito Control Research Laboratory, Parlier.
New Tools. "The fight to reduce and possibly eliminate malaria continues and becomes especially challenging as efforts to reduce malaria morbidity have plateaued since 2015,” said Cornel. “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 (GM) 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,” Cornel said, adding that his role, as a field team co-investigator for UCIMI and VGL, is to work with Lanzaro and Pinto “to understand as much as we can about the behavior, population structure and population sizes of Anopheles coluzzi (the malaria vector) on these islands to design the most efficient strategy of releasing the genetically modified mosquitoes to have maximum effect.”
Malaria is an acute illness caused by Plasmodium parasites, which spread to humans through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In 2020, nearly half of the world's population was at risk of malaria. An estimated 241 million cases of malaria occurred worldwide in 2020, with 627,000 dying.
Tremendous Burden. Medical entomologist and geneticist Geoffrey Attardo of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology (who is not involved in this project), noted that “Malaria is a disease which creates a tremendous burden on people living in affected areas. In particular its impacts on the mortality in young children and pregnant women are devastating. Attempts to control this disease using traditional methods have been effective in recent years.”
The island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe, population of 178,700 in 2016, is located about 200 miles west of Gabon on Africa's mainland. It shares maritime borders with Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Nigeria. The combined area of the archipelago is about five times the size of Washington, DC. The United States established diplomatic relations with São Tomé and Príncipe in 1976, following its independence from Portugal.
Open Philanthropy's mission, as noted on its website, is to “give as effectively as we can and share our findings openly so that anyone can build on our work. Through research and grant-making, we hope to learn how to make philanthropy go especially far in terms of improving lives. We're passionate about maximizing the impact of our giving, and we're excited to connect with other donors who share our passion.”
São Tomé and Príncipe (nationsonline.org)
This stipend will help support one year of living expenses while she pursues ecological modeling at University of Copenhagen.
She will be leveraging Professor Lene Sigsgaard's apple orchard data and aiming to add spatial capability to Professor Neils Holst's Universal Simulator. Both professors are supervising the grant.
The abstract of the proposal:
“This proposal aspires to address civilization's greatest challenge: sustainably feeding our global population. Approaching agricultural food production as an ecosystem rather than an industrial process allows for greater sustainability. This systems approach allows farmers to sustainably intensify their agroecosystem using the tool with the greatest impact: redesign. Models can be used to pre-screen designs for optimal pest management. I propose using modelling to design pest-resilient apple orchards. Specifically, the proposal focuses on the combination of pest-attractant crops (Trap Crops), increasing plant diversity (Dilution Effects) for masking crops from pests, and using diverse crops to support natural enemies (Natural Enemy Effects). The combination of modelling and orchard design could result sustainably intensifying apple production in Europe.”
Emily's entomological journey began at Cornell University, where she received her bachelor's degree in entomology in 2013. She then received two degrees in entomology from UC Davis: her master's degree in 2017 and her doctorate in 2019.
Bick, who specializes in integrated pest management, helped anchor the UC Davis Linnaean Games Team that won the national championship at the ESA meeting in 2016, and the University of California (UC Davis and UC Berkeley) Linnaean Games Team that won the national championship in 2018. The Linnaean Games, launched in 1983, are lively question-and-answer, college bowl-style competitions on entomological facts and played by winners of the ESA branch competitions. The teams score points by correctly answering random questions. (Watch the championship game on YouTube). She also served as vice president of the UC Davis Entomology Graduate Student Association (EGSA).
Bick served as an emergency medical technician from 2008 to 2017 and gained her pesticide applicator's license in 2013. She was singled out to receive the Student Certification Award at the Entomological Society of America (ESA) meeting in 2018. In 2014, she was named a Board-Certified Entomologist, a honor bestowed on her at the ESA meeting.
Leslie Saul-Gershenz, a postdoctoral scientist in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology beginning January 2016, received the $220,000 grant from Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit of the Bureau of Land Management for the first year of the study.
“The grant will fund research to determine the type and extent of impacts that utility-scale solar installations on public lands may have on pollinator-plant webs in desert ecosystems,” Saul-Gershenz said. “Pollinators play a vital role in maintaining functional ecosystems. This project addresses the need for documenting instances of impacts from fragmentation of pollinator trap lines, loss of vegetation habitat for different life stages of pollinators, disruption of dependencies between endemic plants or endemic invertebrates and their respective companion pollinators or host plants, and potential demographic population declines from pollinator mortalities induced by specific types of renewable energy technology.”
Her co-principal investigators are pollination ecologist Neal Williams, associate professor in the department, and Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and UC Davis professor of entomology. They will collaborate with native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis and a Bohart Museum associate; research associate Thomas Zavortink of the Bohart Museum; Terry Griswold of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service Bee Biology Lab; and John Ascher of the National University of Singapore.
Saul-Gershenz is known for her bee-parasite research on solitary ground-nesting bees in the genus Habropoda and its nest parasite, a blister beetle, Meloe franciscanus. The larvae of the parasitic blister beetle produce a chemical signal that mimics the sex pheromone of female solitary bee to lure males to the larval aggregation. The larvae attach to the male bee and then transfer to the female during mating. The end result: a larva winds up in the nest of a female bee, where it eats the nest provisions and likely the host egg.
The Mojave and Sonoran Deserts are biological hot spots of biodiversity supporting more than 689 species of bees and 1512 species of plants in the Mojave Desert alone, Saul-Gershenz said.
The grant cites several publications:
Baldwin, B. 2015. Personal Communication. U. C. Berkeley, Jepson Herbarium. Number of species of plants in the Mojave Desert.
Griswold, T., Higbee, S. and Messinger. O. (2006). Pollination Ecology Final Report for Biennium 2003, Clark County, Nevada (2004-2005). Logan, Utah, USDA-ARS Bee Biology
Zavortink, T. and Kimsey, L. “Bees (Hymenoptera, Apoidea) of the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, Imperial County, California.” In preparation.