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Tarleton biology students seeking pests carrying parasitic microbe

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

STEPHENVILLE, Texas—Students in a Tarleton State University genetics teaching lab are on the lookout for mosquitoes.

Not any mosquitoes, but ones infected with a bacteria called Wolbachia.

In a Tarleton teaching lab for genetics techniques, Drs. Dustin Edwards and Russell Pfau use a research project to teach students modern techniques and data collection for research that could be critical to pest control applications for the dangerous mosquitoes.

In the class, students collect arthropods, preferably mosquitoes, and extract their DNA. A portion of the DNA is amplified and sequenced to identify the species of each collected insect. Students also screen the DNA looking for a Wolbachia gene.

Next, the students use bioinformatics software to build phylogenetic trees of the insects and to determine genetic distance. They then match whether the strains of Wolbachia are restricted to distinct branches of the phylogenetic tree.

In addition to learning modern genetic techniques during long semesters, interested students may return during the summer to re-evaluate positive samples and continue their research.

Recently, a collaboration on the Wolbachia Project has been established with other universities, led by Dr. Seth Bordenstein of Vanderbilt, as part of a National Science Foundation outreach. Using the combined expertise, it was discovered that an Aedes aegyptimosquito, collected by a Tarleton student, was possibly infected with Wolbachia. This had never been seen in the wild before.

Some experts have proposed breeding and releasing mosquitoes that have intentionally been infected with an appropriate strain of Wolbachia. In a 2016 study the parasite showed the ability to block the spread of the Zika virus in mosquitoes in Brazil.

In July 2017, Verily, the life sciences arm of Google parent company Alphabet, announced a plan to release 20 million Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes in Fresno, Cal., in an attempt to combat the virus. Singapore’s National Environment Agency teamed with Verily to create an advanced way to release male Wolbachia mosquitoes for Phase 2 of its study to suppress the urban Aedes aegypti mosquito population and fight the dengue virus.

Tarleton,founding member of The Texas A&M University System, provides a student-focused, value-driven education marked by academic innovation and a dedication to transform today’s scholars into tomorrow’s leaders. It offers degree programs to more than 13,000 students at Stephenville, Fort Worth, Waco, Midlothian, RELLIS Academic Alliance in Bryan, and online, emphasizing real-world learning experiences that address societal needs while maintaining its core values of tradition, integrity, civility, excellence, leadership and service.


Contact: Phil Riddle, News and Information Specialist

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