Fonseca Lab

Population genetics for the good of the citizen

July 1, 2018 – Just in time of the 4th of July New Jersey.com released a detailed examination of the importance of the exotic longhorned tick to NJ residents. The report also talks about native ticks and the pathogens they are known to carry and strategies residents can use to avoid becoming a “statistic”. Importantly, Andrea made her debut as the “Science gal” explaining the intricacies of DNA extraction and amplification to a general audience and the power of population genetics to give us some very needed answers. Go Andrea!!

Its a ticky world!

nymphs

Three nymphs of blacklegged tick, Ixodes scapularis, also three nymphs of lone star tick, Amblyomma americanum, and eight nymphs of the exotic longhorned tick, Haemaphysalis longicornis, all found during surveillance of the Rutgers Cook campus. We are developing strategies for Integrated Pest Management for ticks on campus working with Animal Science, Rutgers Vets and maybe one day, Facilities (maybe they’ll finally listen to us and replace the black garbage bags across campus with perforated ones…).

Reaction to the re-discovery of the longhorned tick in NJ

21 April 2018 – NJ Department of Agriculture formally announced the re-emergence of the invasive tick (aka exotick) – click on the date for the press-release. A few news outlets have responded: NJ.com; wrnjradio.com; Philadelphia Inquirer; CBS New York; People Magazine. There was also a piece on National Public Radio. Reaction overall seems muted, sometimes fatalistic and often humorous (check out the comments on NJ.com’s website 🙂 )

The longhorned tick is back! (actually, it never left)

13 April 2018 – It was Friday the 13th but also one of the first warm days of this Spring and Jim decided to go check up on the ticks in the Hunterdon farm where an invasive tick, Haemaphysalis longicornis, was confirmed in 2017. Andrea went with him – the “buddy system” is an important tool of surveillance.  They were also supported by Tadhgh Rainey from the Hunterdon Department of Health and Adam Randall from F&W. Jim brought along CO2 traps, which turned out to be a great decision. They swept the grassland and got nothing, but found several nymphs and a few larvae and adults were attracted to the dry ice. They caught them with tweezers as they climbed onto the white cardboard surrounding the dry ice cooler.

First talk on Exoticks

22 February 2018 – Dina is giving a talk on invasive ticks (aka Exoticks) at the 2018 Tick Summit (VII) at the National Wildlife Visitor Center at Patuxent Research Refuge (10901 Scarlet Tanager Loop, Laurel, MD 20708). She’ll give an overview of invasive ticks in the US (and also worldwide) and summarize the detection last summer of Haemaphysalis longicornis by Rainey, Occi, Robbins and Egizi in Hunterdon, NJ. 

Rafael’s ms accepted in “Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment”

11 December 2017 – Found out today that Early detection of terrestrial invasive insect infestations by using eDNA from crop surfaces” by Valentin, Fonseca, Nielsen, Leskey and Lockwood was formally accepted for publication in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, a ESA (the Ecology one) journal. Frontiers publishes short, high-impact research communications of broad interdisciplinary appeal. Congratulations Rafael! 

Exotic hard-tick detected in NJ!

longicornis1550Rev

Three life-stages of H. longicornis. Adult female (left), partially engorged nymph (center) and larvae (right). Scale is millimeters. Picture by Jim Occi, Rutgers University

22 November 2017 – We had to wait until an official joint press release was issued by the NJ Dept. of Agriculture and NJ Dept. of Health yesterday, but on November 9 Andrea, using the barcode mtDNA sequence, identified an unknown tick that had been found in Hunterdon county, NJ back in August. The tick was brought to our attention by Jim Occi, who was contacted by the Hunterdon Department of Health that shrewdly had figured out the tick was “something different”. Shortly after, Andrea’s tick ID was confirmed by USDA-APHIS. It is Haemaphysalis longicornis, the “longhorned tick” or “bush tick”. This species is native to northeast Asia (China, Russia, Japan) but expanded into Australasia (Australia, New Zealand, Pacific islands) in the 1800’s or early 1900’s. While H. longicornis had been intercepted several times in United States ports of entry, there are no known established populations in the New World. This tick is decidedly an agricultural (livestock) pest and disease vector and it has been associated with human pathogen transmission, particularly in farmers and those handling livestock. The question in everyone’s mind is: will it survive the NJ winter? That will likely depend on where it came from.

For more details on this tick go to our research page where there is also a link to a summary review that Dina, Andrea and Jim (with help from researchers at USDA-APHIS and USDA-ARS) wrote.

Investigating the Ecology of Male Aedes polynesiensis in Tetiaroa to Improve Population Eradication using Wolbachia

IMG_2743.jpg

The atoll of Tetiaroa. Image is the property of The Brando resort.

It’s true, paradise does exist. And it is Tetiaroa. Tetiaroa is an atoll in the Windward group of the Society Islands in French Polynesia located 33 mi from Tahiti. The atoll has only 6 square kilometres (2 sq mi) of total surface area divided by 12 motus (islets), but it makes up for its modest size by encircling a truly world unique lagoon. The lagoon is approximately 7 kilometers wide and ranges in depth from only a few centimeters at the shore to 30 meters at its deepest point and is filled with clear, turquoise water and abundant marine life. The isolation and beauty of the atoll made it a top vacation spot for Tahitian royalty and in more recent times is known for having been purchased by and served as a primary residence for Marlon Brando. It is now home to The Brando, a luxury eco-resort. The allure of Tetiaroa attracted not only royalty but the mosquito Aedes polynesiensis, a vector of dengue, lymphatic filariasis and likely Zika virus, as well.

IMG_2722

View of the outer reef of Tetiaroa

Ae. polynesiensis is a semi-domestic species found only in the South Pacific with an extremely wide range of breeding places that includes tree holes, a wide range of artificial containers, crab holes, canoes, coconut shells and husks, of which there are plenty on Tetiaroa. In addition to their vector status, they can cause great nuisance to locals and vacationers alike, destroying a long-awaited honeymoon or relaxing retreat. So, if you want to formulate a plan to eradicate a pest to improve paradise while also undertaking an ambitious experiment that could change how we fight mosquitoes and the diseases they spread, there is no better setting than Tetiaroa.

habitus image

Aedes polynesiensis female

IMG_2718.JPG

Typical Ae. polynesiensis habitat on Tetiaroa

The project to eliminate Ae. polynesiensis from Tetiaroa is led by medical entomologist Hervé Bossin and his team at the Institut Louis Malardé in collaboration with the Tetiaroa Society, a non-profit research and conservation organization dedicated to understanding the wonders of Tetiaroa, and The Brando resort. The plan involves releasing large numbers of Wolbachia-infected male Ae. polynesiensis into the wild to reduce and eventually eradicate the species from the island. Wolbachia are a group of intra-cellular bacteria that live inside many insect species, including mosquitoes, and when a male mosquito infected with Wolbachia mates with a female not infected with Wolbachia, or infected with a different strain, the fertilized eggs fail to develop due to what is called cytoplasmic incompatibility. Hervé and his team have already released more than 1 million sterile male mosquitoes on the island starting in 2015, triggering a hundredfold drop in the mosquito population. Today, over a year after the end of releases, the mosquito population on the islet of Onetahi where the study took place is 1/10th what is was prior to the Wolbachia releases.

However, there is still much to learn before additional releases are performed. In particular, male Ae. polynesiensis ecology is still poorly understood. Questions such as, “how far will a male fly?” and “how long does a male live?” are still unanswered. It is essential to answer these and many other questions to optimize future releases and maximize population suppression. To help fill in these knowledge gaps, Hervé and ILM have arranged for a gathering of some of the world’s premier medical entomologists and mosquito ecologists for a workshop on male-based control strategies, including Wolbachia. Prior to the workshop, a small group of researchers, including myself (Brian), will perform a series of mark-release-recapture experiments on Tetiaroa. These experiments will involve the release of 45,000 male Ae. polynesiensis marked with fluorescent powder to obtain accurate estimates on male dispersal (flight range) and survivorship post-release, as well as investigations into novel male surveillance strategies.

The experiments have yet to take place, but we are already excited about the outcomes! More updates on the workshop and MRR experiments will follow shortly.

IMG_2710

Sunset on the beach of Onetahi islet in Tetiaroa

EPA registered Aedes males with a modified Wolbachia for release in DC and 20 US states (including NJ)

7 November 2017 – On Nov. 3, EPA registered a new mosquito biopesticide – ZAP Males®. ZAP Males® are live male mosquitoes that are infected with a strain of the Wolbachia bacterium (named ZAP) that is incompatible with existing Aedes albopictus  Wolbachia strains. ZAPMales® can be used in sterile male technique (SIT) approaches. Tests of efficacy are still lacking but proof of principle, especially the ability of releasing males without changing the makeup of local Wolbachia infections has been accomplished (Mains et al 2016). And here’s a link to a Nature article on the subject:  https://www.nature.com/news/us-government-approves-killer-mosquitoes-to-fight-disease-1.22959

Welcome Melvin!

Melvin DelVillar

The Fonseca Lab would like to officially welcome Melvin DelVillar to our lab. He is an undergraduate student in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers University, and is pursuing a BS in both Entomology and Kinesiology & Health. Melvin hopes to become a MD specializing in infectious diseases and tackling the issue of vector-borne diseases.

At Rutgers University, Melvin is an executive board member of the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) where he coordinates events and seminars that help prepare students for the rigors of medical school and the pre-medical track.

Melvin is interested in the relationship between arthropod transmitted vector-borne diseases and people, and how this relationship changes over time and space. As a lab technician in the Fonseca Lab, Melvin is currently researching the expansion of invasive species of potential vectors in northern parts of New Jersey.

Melvin is a running enthusiast and is a member of the Rutgers Running Club and the Garden State Track Club.

Global Health Institute

19 October 2017 – Dina attended a (almost) all day retreat to define the mission of the Rutgers Global Health Institute. She contributed to the inclusion of foci in vector-borne diseases and urban health as well as the importance of direct community engagement (will follow up with colleagues she met from the School of Public Health and Information & Communications). The Global health Institute is a new Rutgers venture, the Director, Dr. Richard Marlink joined a year ago.

A trip to stop them all

Rafael_Anne_DinaOctober 11, 2017 – Rafael, Anne Nielsen and Dina met up with Sven-Erik Spichiger (PA Department of Agriculture) and visited sites in Pennsylvania infested with the spotted lanternfly (SLF), Lycormia denticulata. A beauty and a beast. SLF was first detected in eastern PA (Berks county) in 2014 and has since spread to five others (Bucks, Montgomery, Chester, Lehigh and Northampton). Arrival in NJ is imminent and we need to be pro-active. Rafael carefully collected samples of honeydew, soil, leaves covered in sap and black mold. Will there be detectable SLF DNA?? That is the question. For the answer, keep tuning in.