Fonseca Lab

News

Exotic hard-tick detected in NJ!

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

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

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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.

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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.

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Aedes polynesiensis female

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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.

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Sunset on the beach of Onetahi islet in Tetiaroa

Jim Occi lectures at the New Jersey Medical School

November 15 – Jim Occi will deliver a lecture titled “The New Jersey Tick Problem” to the Mini Med School at the New Jersey Medical School in Newark, NJ. The lecture begins at 7 pm in the Medical Sciences Building. For more information visit the Mini Med School website.

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

7 November 2017 – Rafael got first prize in the Plant-Insect Ecosystems (P-IE) graduate student competition. Congratulations Rafael!

Welcome Deblina!

Deblina Mukherjee

The Fonseca Lab would like to welcome Deblina Mukherjee as one of the newest members in the lab! Deblina will be developing strategies to detect highly degraded blood meals in mosquitoes and ticks. She is a senior at Rutgers University in the School of Arts and Sciences and is studying biological sciences. Deblina hopes to attend medical school after graduation.

At Rutgers, Deblina is the treasurer of RU Swara, which is an Indian classical music performing arts team. In addition, she is a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars.

Outside of the Fonseca Lab and Rutgers University, Deblina is an EMT at the Plainsboro Rescue Squad, a certified Nursing Assistant at the Elms of Cranbury, a founder of Tutor @ Advantage Tutoring and teaches Hindustani Classical Music after earning her Bachelor’s degree in that field. In addition, Deblina is multilingual and speaks five languages: Bengali, English, Hindi, Spanish, and Urdu.

Pesticide Applicator Re-certification Training Course – Jobbins Conference Room

Thursday, 26 October 2017 – This course meets the credit needs of pesticide applicators before their pesticide applicator license expires in October. Master Scott Crans from NJ DEP, Drs. Brian Johnson, Diana Carle and Dina Fonseca from the lab, as well as Dr. George Hamilton will give talks on issues relevant to mosquito control in NJ. Here is a PDF of the program: PestRecertAgenda. Organized by Diana Carle.

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 tract.

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.

20 October 2017- Daniela spoke with Lisa today and she’s feeling like her normal self again. Lisa had an angioplasty and cardiac catheterization procedure this morning (serious stuff!) and everything went well. But she is still in the Robert Wood Johnson Hospital. UPDATE (23 Oct): Lisa is home and recovering. Yay! She is an email away!

Our thoughts are with you Lisa. We are all looking forward to seeing you healthy again!

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.