Educating insect pathologists to prevent infectious diseases in mass-reared insects
PhD time flies… but also mosquitoes! An update
March 21, 2023
I am Alessandro Roman, Insect Doctors’ Early Stage Researcher 15. My PhD project is part of Work Package 3, with the aim to gain knowledge on how to increase fitness of mass reared insects. Since January 2022, I am based at Wageningen University and Research, precisely working in the Plant Science Group – Laboratory of Entomology… and yes… as you can see from my previous Research Highlight (https://www.insectdoctors.eu/en/insectdoctors/version-of-impact-of-bacterial-symbionts-on-host-growth-and-mating-competitiveness-in-mass-reared-mosquitoes.htm), I am still exploring one of the most intriguing insects on earth, mosquitoes.
My journey started in the United Kingdom, at the University of Exeter, based in Penryn, a fascinating town surrounded by Cornish landscapes. Here, I established an Aedes aegypti rearing, also known as the yellow fever mosquito, by reading and spending days setting the best conditions and practicing how to handle the necessary equipment for supplying blood. This mosquito is considered the main vector of several arboviruses that are responsible for numerous human diseases 1. The risk of vector-borne diseases will increase due to the important role of climate change 2,3, exacerbating the risks related to disease burden and health inequity, and lead to slowing down socioeconomic development and strain health services 4. To effectively control mosquito populations, mass release techniques are gaining interest, and hence the fitness of mass reared insects.
Bacterial symbionts can play an essential role in individual mosquito development and fitness. Our experiments were performed with the aim to understand how development and time to pupation (two important fitness parameters for mass rearing production) were affected by the presence of specific bacterial symbiont species in the mosquito gut. Our interesting results led to new questions related to the mosquito microbiota, and its dynamic. Thanks to this experience, I had the opportunity to gain and improve my skills in bioinformatics, specifically related to analysis of Illumina sequencing data.
Subsequently, the time to join Wageningen University arrived. It was challenging to move to a different lab, in a different country, and adapt in a short period of time, in order to have myself running again in this stimulating environment. My interest in the research and the passion of the One Health Entomology Group in Wageningen helped me getting started in the lab. Seeing the first results obtained in the United Kingdom, and the opportunity offered by the laboratory of Entomology, we decided to explore how different mosquito species and strains are influenced by the selected symbionts, concerning fitness parameters, and not only…
Interesting results will come soon… stay tuned!
The travels for my PhD journey did not end yet, I will fly to Austria in few months, with the destination of the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture.
1 Espinal, M. A. et al. Emerging and Reemerging Aedes-Transmitted Arbovirus Infections in the Region of the Americas: Implications for Health Policy. Am. J. Public Health109, 387-392, doi:10.2105/ajph.2018.304849 (2019).
2 Iwamura, T., Guzman-Holst, A. & Murray, K. A. Accelerating invasion potential of disease vector Aedes aegypti under climate change. Nature Communications11, 10, doi:10.1038/s41467-020-16010-4 (2020).
3 Rocklöv, J. & Dubrow, R. Climate change: an enduring challenge for vector-borne disease prevention and control. Nature Immunology21, 479-483, doi:10.1038/s41590-020-0648-y (2020).
4 Messina, J. P. et al. Mapping global environmental suitability for Zika virus. elife5, e15272 (2016).