Fonseca Lab

News

Rafael is giving the Entomology Department Seminar!

2 February 2018“Application of environmental DNA to survey for agricultural pests”

Seminar starts at 11am (come earlier for coffee and donuts!) in the 2nd floor classroom in Thompson Hall, Cook Campus (SEBS).

Welcome Florence!

Florence Pierre

Welcome to the Fonseca Lab Florence Pierre! Florence is an undergraduate student studying Biological Sciences and hopes to attend medical school and become a osteopathic doctor. Her research interests are how animal species affect agriculture and vice-versa. Florence is currently working with Rafael on early detection of invasive insects in terrestrial systems. In her spare time, Florence likes to volunteer for various organizations and to dance.

Welcome Sydney!

Sydney Gable

The Fonseca Lab would like to welcome Sydney Gable as one of our newest members in the lab! Sydney is an undergraduate student pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources. She hopes to continue her studies and pursue a graduate degree in ecology and evolution. Her research focus is on the rapid evolution in mosquito larvae osmoregulation in varying levels of salinity in their environment. Sydney is currently assisting Brian on the salt marsh mosquito project.

Sydney works as a simulated patient for the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. She is also a DJ and hosts karaoke night throughout New Brunswick.

Jim Occi at the Long Beach Island Foundation

Jim Occi will be delivered a lecture on New Jersey ticks at the Long Beach Island Foundation for the Arts on January 13th at 12pm. For more information, please click here.

Congrats Dana Price, Brian Johnson, and Andrea Egizi on the acceptance of their grant proposal!

Brian Johnson, Andrea Egizi and Dana Price submitted a grant proposal to the American Mosquito Control Association Research Fund.  Their project will develop a novel shotgun sequencing approach to analyze metagenomic material (genetic material sampled directly from environmental samples) collected from sentinel nucleic acid preservation cards to improve our knowledge of arboviral transmission dynamics across landscapes. The approach, shotgun sequencing, is a method of obtaining long sequences of DNA and RNA by breaking up genetic material randomly into small segments, which are sequenced resulting in the production of many overlapping reads (sequences) of each individual segment. Once complete, the overlapping ends of the multiple sequences allow for the assemblage of a single, large continuous sequence.  This technology will be used to analyze metagenomic material sampled remotely using nucleic acid preservation cards to sample DNA and RNA from direct vector contact, either through feeding (collection of saliva) or excreta sampling. This method will allow researchers to analyze vector and pathogen diversity as well as the microbiome content of collected vector species in the absence of the logistical constraints of traditional surveillance and sample preservation. These data will further our knowledge of arboviral transmission across landscapes and investigate the potential functions of the microbiome on virus transmission. The hope is that through this pilot project, the researchers will be able to provide trapping and workflow protocols to enable other researchers to adopt this tool to improve upon existing arbovirus surveillance methodologies.

Sammi’s ms accepted in “Epidemics”!

13 December 2017 – Sammi’s ms entitled The importance of being urgent: the impact of surveillance target and scale on mosquito-borne disease control” by Sammi Schwab, Chris Stone, Dina Fonseca and Nina Fefferman was accepted in “Epidemics”! This a modeling analysis of the pros and cons of using different threshold targets on arboviral control outcomes and starts to put together a mathematical framework for decision making in mosquito control. Congratulations Sammi!

Andrea’s ms accepted in “Tick & Tick-borne Diseases”!

11 December 2017 – Andrea ms entitled “A historical snapshot of Ixodes scapularis-borne pathogens in New Jersey ticks reflects a changing disease landscape” by Egizi, Rogner, Faraji, Healy and Jordan was officially accepted in Tick & Tick Borne Diseases. Andrea is now officially an “insider” in the world of tick research! Congratulations Andrea!

Dina is going to China next year!

Dina Fonseca will give an invited talk at the International Conference on Malaria and Related Haemosporidian Parasites of Wildlife in Beijing, China in November 2018! The conference is hosted by the Beijing Normal University and Beijing Zoo. The objective of the conference is to exchange research and knowledge, and promote international collaborations in the field of wildlife malaria.

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! 

Heads-up: NJMCA and AMCA meetings

UPDATE: Melvin has agreed to deliver the talk/poster (TBD) on the expansion of Aedes atlanticus in NJ at NJMCA (!)

Hi everyone! While the deadline for abstract submission is long gone (September 15, I think), if you are talking at AMCA and you are a student (!!) you can apply for an all-expenses paid trip to Kansas on a Kelly Label Travel award. The AMCA 2018 will be February 26-March 2, 2018, in Kansas City, MO. Brian and Dina are signed up but sadly neither is a registered student.

The NJMCA 2018 Annual Convention will be in Atlantic City, NJ (as per usual) on March 14-16. Deadline for NJMCA abstracts is Jan 5. Send the title, speaker and coauthors info as well as an abstract  (< 500 words) to Autumn Angelus, the program organizer. Click here for the Call for Papers Form. Andrea, Brian, Lisa, Dina will be attending. Please let Dina know if you want to attend. There are nice cash awards for great talks/posters by students.

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, 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

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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