A professor in New Mexico State University’s Department of Biology received a $1.46 million grant to study amino acid transport in mosquitoes in the hopes of finding new ways for controlling their population.
Immo Hansen, an associate professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, received the grant from the National Institutes of Health at the beginning of July.
“We’re going to study how mosquitoes move amino acids from one tissue to the next,” Hansen said. “They get these amino acids from our blood when they bite us. Then, in other tissues, they use these amino acids to make yolk proteins in order to make eggs and reproduce.”
The amino acids cross a layer called the mid-gut, then are transported to the fat-body tissue, where they are made into yolk proteins, Hansen said.
“The amino acids move across at least four cell membranes and in order to do that, they need a transporter protein,” Hansen. “Mosquitoes have more than 100 different amino acid transporter proteins but we’re going to focus on a group of cationic transporters that have been shown to be really important. If you can develop inhibitors that stop these transporters from doing their job, the mosquito can’t produce any fertile eggs.”
For now the research will focus on the species Aedes aegypti, the Yellow Fever mosquito, which has a dense population in southern New Mexico and is a known carrier for Dengue fever, Zika virus, and Chikungunya.
Hansen is collaborating on this research with Omar Holguin, assistant professor in NMSU’s College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences, who will conduct metabolism research on the mosquitoes. A third collaborator is Dmitri Boudko from Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in Chicago, who is an expert in membrane physiology, specifically the study of ion currents in biological tissues.
“We’re going to be taking amino acid transporters from mosquitoes and express them in frog eggs,” Hansen said. “The frog eggs will then produce the mosquito transporter proteins and we can study them with a technique called electrophysiology.”
Hansen said research into population control of mosquitoes is important now because many insecticides have “lost their punch.”
“Mosquitoes in Las Cruces and Roswell are highly resistant to the typical insecticides people use,” he said. “It’s amazing how fast their resistance has evolved.”
The NIH grant will fund this research for the next four years and allow the three professors to hire a postdoctoral fellows to assist in their research.
TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, N. M. – For the first time, authorities have trapped and identified the type of mosquito that carries the Zika virus in Sierra County, where the county seat is Truth or Consequences.
This summer, the New Mexico Department of Health, along with New Mexico State University, has been sampling the 24 southernmost counties, from the Mexican border up to Bernalillo County, and found the Aedes aegypti species in Sierra, Doña Ana, Eddy, and Chaves counties. In the past, the bugs have also turned up in Otero County.
Dr. Paul Ettestad, the state public health veterinarian with the New Mexico Department of Health, said the good news is that local mosquitoes haven’t been proven to actually spread the virus, yet.
“We haven’t had the situation in Miami, where there’s local person-to-person transmission going on,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to avoid. We don’t want that to happen.”
Six New Mexico residents have been diagnosed with the Zika virus, but each of them are had recently traveled to South or Central America. Zika has been linked to severe birth defects in babies whose mothers were infected during pregnancy.
Ettestad said local Vector Control workers need everyone’s help to prevent an outbreak.
“We’re hoping that people will look around their home and look for any standing water, especially after all the rains we’ve had lately,” he explained. “The Zika mosquitoes like to live right near people, and lay their eggs in a very little bit of water. It can be as small as a bottle cap full of water.”
Vector Control teams also have found a second mosquito species that can carry Zika in Roosevelt, Otero and Curry counties.
While the rest of the world is keeping its distance from the mosquito that carries the Zika virus, two New Mexico State University professors are seeking out this mosquito, which carries not only Zika but also a host of other diseases as well.
Thanks to a grant through the New Mexico Department of Health, NMSU biology professor Kathryn Hanley and NMSU geography professor Michaela Buenemann, both in the College of Arts and Sciences, and their graduate students will begin a project to trap mosquitos in different locations around New Mexico and generate a species distribution model that health officials can use to identify where the disease-carrying insects are most likely to be.
“We know these mosquitoes occur in New Mexico,” said Buenemann. “We know these mosquitoes have been detected, but we don’t know their geographic distribution. We will collect samples at selected sites across the state and collect information about temperature, precipitation, land cover and other explanatory variables. We will then link these data in spatial models to map the distribution of mosquito vectors across the state.”
Hanley has been studying the Zika virus for 10 years. She and Buenemann previously mapped mosquitoes carrying the virus in Senegal, West Africa.
“Until people appreciated that it could cause birth defects, no one was interested in Zika,” said Hanley. “The reason no one paid much attention to Zika virus besides us is that it causes very mild disease in adults. Fever, a little rash, that’s about it.
“It’s only in 2015 that people noticed the association between Zika virus, pregnant women and microcephaly in the babies born to those women. What we found in 2015 is that not only is the virus transmitted by mosquitoes, but also it is sexually transmitted.” Hanley explained those who should worry most about Zika are women who might get pregnant or men carrying the virus who have sex with pregnant women.
“We don’t know the distribution of that vector in New Mexico. That’s critically important. If we want to assess our risk, if we want to know ‘Am I at risk of Zika infection from a mosquito bite?’ we need to know where that mosquito is.”
Stephanie Mundis, an NMSU graduate student with a double major in geography and biology, will spend the summer trapping mosquitoes
in specific locations around the state as far north as southern Bernalillo County. Creating a map of mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus in New Mexico will be her thesis project. She expects to have mosquito collection data in the fall and to complete modeling next spring.
“We’re going to be basing our sampling on land cover, so we’re going to be sampling urban areas, agricultural, forest, barren, rangeland and wetlands,” Mundis said. “We’re trying to get a good sample for each of those land cover types so we know we’ve covered the types in the area.
“My thesis is based on modeling the potential distribution of these species throughout New Mexico,” said Mundis, while unfolding one of three types of traps she and another graduate student, Clara Hansen, will use to capture mosquitos in the wild.
The white fabric cylinder contains a lactic acid lure that attracts mosquitoes by mimicking the scent of human skin. The mosquitoes follow the scent into a cone in the cylinder and a fan sucks them into a net where they are captured.
“Once we catch them, we will be freezing them or putting them in coolers, keeping them as cool as possible. We will be using morphological keys to identify them. Just by looking at certain traits and patterns on their thorax, we can easily identify these mosquitoes.”
The Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries the Zika virus, has noticeable white markings in the shape of a Greek lyre on its thorax and white banding on its legs.
Once the mosquitoes are captured and identified, layers of geographic data will be used to create a computer model to provide information for health officials and the general public.
“The problem with mosquitoes of course is that they are really, really tiny. We cannot see them from aerial or satellite imagery,” said Buenemann. “There is no quick fix to figure out where they actually occur. We’ll be tracking how the abundance of mosquitoes changes across space and through time, so we will have spatially and temporally somewhat explicit information that can be used to inform the public about when they are most likely be bitten by a potentially infected mosquito and where.”
Hanley hears two questions from most people about the Zika virus: Is Zika coming to my area, and what can I do to minimize my risk?
“Here in New Mexico, the answer is yes. We have the vector for Zika virus. Zika will come to our area,” Hanley said. “As for the risk, it depends on whether you are a reproductive age adult and interested in getting pregnant or you might have sex with someone who is pregnant or may get pregnant. If you’re outside that range, you don’t have to worry much.”
After mapping New Mexico for the mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus, Hanley and Buenemann will begin another project to map Zika virus transmission in Borneo to find out which animal species are transmitting the virus.
“We know that the virus occurs in monkeys in Africa and Asia,” Hanley said. “We’re worried it is going to get into monkeys in the Americas, because if it does that, we’ll never be able to eradicate Zika virus from the Americas.”
Unfortunately, the dry desert doesn’t protect from mosquitoes. These bloodsuckers emerge each year and, according to Jeff Anderson, the Agronomy and Horticulture Agent for New Mexico State University’s Dona Ana County Cooperative Extension Service, the state’s mosquitoes are especially active in July and August, once the monsoon season rains kick in.
Anderson warns the mosquitoes that carry the dangerous Zika virus, known as Aedes aegypti mosquitos, are found in Dona Ana County. And, unlike other mosquitoes, these are especially aggressive during the day, and only land on humans for a short time, making them harder to spot and swat.
Anderson offers the following tips for mosquito-proofing your yard:
1) Find dry land. Get rid of any standing water around your home. Old tires, plastic buckets and toys left outside can collect rainwater where mosquitoes lay eggs. Taking care of your property won’t just help you; it will help the whole neighborhood.
2) Be water smart. Too much water on your lawn can make it a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Don’t overwater. It’s also a good idea to water in the morning, instead of in the evening, so the soil has an opportunity to dry during the day.
3) Spray the bugs away. Use mosquito repellent that contains DEET when you’re outdoors. For those allergic to DEET, stores often have natural repellents as well.
4) Use power plants. Some forms of eucalyptus, as well as lavender, can repel mosquitoes simply by being planted in an area. Other plants, such as basil and catnip, produce oils in their leaves, which can be crushed and used in sprays to repel mosquitoes.
5) Get an oil change. Essential oils, including citrus, lemon eucalyptus, cedar, garlic and citronella, are useful in keeping mosquitoes at bay and can be purchased locally or online.
6) Go all-natural. A number of granular mosquito prevention products for lawns and floating products for use in water features contain natural bacteria called Bacillus thuringiensis, which is toxic to mosquitoes, but won’t hurt pets, humans or other animals.
7) Dress for success. Mosquitoes are attracted to heat, and dark-colored clothing tends to retain heat. During mosquito season, make sure to wear clothes that are light-colored, loose-fitting and long-sleeved.
8) Set some traps. Studies have found that commercial carbon dioxide mosquito traps can kill thousands of mosquitoes a night. Bug zappers, on the other hand, aren’t as effective. Zappers kill bugs indiscriminately, and only about one percent of the zapped bugs turn out to be mosquitoes. Stick with the CO2 traps.
9) Bring in the big guns. A number of chemical products specifically designed for mosquito control are available at local stores. Make sure to check for these products early, and stock up. They’ll sometimes run out before the end of mosquito season.
Immo Hansen, associate professor in the New Mexico State University Department of Biology and the Institute for Applied Biosciences, will present a public talk on NMSU mosquito research as part of the College of Arts and Sciences’ Biomedical Research Seminar Series, at 3:30 p.m.Friday, Feb. 19, in Room 109 of Domenici Hall. Refreshments will be served starting at 3 p.m.
This discussion, titled “Of mosquitoes and men – new ways to control insect pests,” will focus on research conducted in NMSU’s Molecular Vector Physiology Lab, including techniques and strategies to manage mosquito populations and prevent epidemics of mosquito-borne diseases like dengue fever, Chikungunya, and Zika virus.
Further, Hansen will provide an overview and update on the recent Zika virus outbreak.
“Mosquitoes are the most dangerous animals in the world. We urgently need new strategies to control them,” Hansen said.
The Biomedical Research Seminar Series will be held most Fridays during the semester, and will feature nationally recognized scientists, as well as a spotlight talk by NMSU faculty. The full schedule can be found at http://events.research.nmsu.edu.
For more information, to request to meet with the speaker or to recommend future speakers, contact Shelley Lusetti at email@example.com
AUSTIN, Texas – Public health officials in Texas are reporting nine cases of the Zika virus in the state’s three largest cities. The Department of State Health Services said Tuesday it has confirmed seven cases in the Houston area and one in San Antonio, all persons who recently traveled to countries with a high infection rate.
A single case in Dallas is believed to be the result of sexual transmission. Tom Skinner, spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says the growing number of Zika cases has his agency moving quickly.
“We activated our emergency operations center, which allows us to pull resources from across CDC, and enhance our ability to respond,” he says. “We are sort of in a full-court press trying to learn as much as we can about Zika virus.”
Skinner says the CDC believes better sanitation conditions in the U.S. will prevent a widespread outbreak here, but also predicts the number of cases will continue to grow.
Zika is almost exclusively spread by infected mosquitoes, though there have been reports of infections through sexual contact. The virus can cause minor flu-like symptoms, but when pregnant women are infected, their babies may be born with severe birth defects.
Texas health officials say they depend on the CDC labs to confirm Zika cases, as the state’s labs don’t yet have that capability. Skinner says CDC staff is working to change that.
“We’re working to improve our ability to diagnose Zika virus infection through laboratory tests,” he says. “There’s only a handful of states that can actually do the kind of testing for Zika to diagnose, so we’re working to enhance the states’ abilities.”
The highest rates of Zika infections have been reported in the Caribbean basin, Central and South America, and southern Mexico. The CDC has issued travel warnings for those areas, particularly for women who are pregnant or are considering becoming pregnant.
DALLAS – Dallas County Health and Human Services (DCHHS) has received confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the first Zika virus case acquired through sexual transmission in Dallas County in 2016.
The patient was infected with the virus after having sexual contact with an ill individual who returned from a country where Zika virus is present. For medical confidentiality and personal privacy reasons, DCHHS does not provide additional identifying information.
“Now that we know Zika virus can be transmitted through sex, this increases our awareness campaign in educating the public about protecting themselves and others,” said Zachary Thompson, DCHHS director. “Next to abstinence, condoms are the best prevention method against any sexually-transmitted infections.”
Zika virus is transmitted to people by mosquitoes and through sexual activity. The most common symptoms of Zika virus are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting several days to a week.
DCHHS advises individuals with symptoms to see a healthcare provider if they have visited an area where Zika virus is present or had sexual contact with a person who traveled to an area where Zika virus is present. There is no specific medication available to treat Zika virus and there is not a vaccine.
The best way to avoid Zika virus is to avoid mosquito bites and to avoid sexual contact with a person who has Zika virus. “Education and awareness is crucial in preventing Zika virus,” said Dr. Christopher Perkins, DCHHS medical director/health authority. “Patients are highly encouraged to follow prevention recommendations to avoid transmitting and spreading Zika virus.”
DCHHS recommends the following to avoid Zika virus:
Use the 4Ds to reduce the chance of being bitten by a mosquito.
DEET All Day, Every Day: Whenever you’re outside, use insect repellents that contain DEET or other EPA approved repellents and follow instructions.
DRESS: Wear long, loose, and light-colored clothing outside.
DRAIN: Remove all standing water in and around your home.
DUSK & DAWN: Limit outdoor activities during dusk and dawn hours when mosquitoes are most active.
Travelers can protect themselves by doing the following:
Choose a hotel or lodging with air conditioning or screens on windows or doors.
Sleep under a mosquito bed net if you are outside or in a room that is not well-screened.
Sexual partners can protect each other by using condoms to prevent spreading sexually-transmitted infections. There are currently no reports of Zika virus being locally-transmitted by mosquitoes in Dallas County.
However, imported cases make local spread by mosquitoes possible because the mosquitoes that can transmit the virus are found locally. DCHHS advises recent travelers with Zika virus symptoms as well as individuals diagnosed with Zika virus protect themselves from further mosquito bites.
For more information on Chikungunya, Dengue and Zika viruses, go to the DCHHS website
SANTA FE, N.M. – Public Health officials in New Mexico say there is currently no evidence that the Zika virus has spread to the state, but they’re taking precautions.
The disease, which is rampant in parts of Latin America, is believed to cause severe birth defects if contracted by a woman during pregnancy.
Paul Ettestad, a veterinarian for the New Mexico Department of Public Health, says the state’s approach to prevention is to keep health care workers informed on the disease.
“We have a health alert network where we have several thousand of health care providers around New Mexico,” he points out. “We’ll send them out the email with the health advisory with signs and symptoms to look out for and details in terms of what samples to collect to diagnose the illness.”
Ettestad says while no one in New Mexico has been diagnosed with the Zika virus, about 30 cases have been identified in other states among people who have recently traveled to southern Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has posted warnings regarding travel to those regions.
Ettestad says Zika is transmitted by the yellow fever mosquito and the Asian tiger mosquito. Both are in parts of southern and eastern New Mexico.
He says, so far, there is no evidence that the virus can be spread from person-to-person, but a mosquito that bites an infected human can pass it along.
“There is the potential for someone who could bring it into our southern counties of New Mexico, where we do have the species of mosquitoes that can potentially transmit the Zika virus,” he states.
Health officials are asking residents to take precautions against exposure to mosquitoes by wearing long sleeves and long pants, and keeping windows closed.
Residents can also take steps to deprive mosquitoes of breeding grounds by removing standing pools of water.