UT researchers keeping a close eye on mosquitoes

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Photo Credit: AP Photo/ Andre Penner

A UT-Rio Grande Valley mosquito monitoring collaboration will cross borders to swat down Zika and other mosquito-borne illnesses.

Led by Patricia Feria-Arroyo, a conservation and ecology professor at UT-Rio Grande Valley, the project includes input from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the US Department of Agriculture, Mexico’s National Center of Preventative Programs and Control of Diseases (CENAPRECE), the City of McAllen, Texas and Hidalgo County, Texas.

According to Feria-Arroyo, the goal of the collaboration is to create a method of surveillance to monitor mosquitoes for disease that is uniform across institutions and countries.In order to test for disease in mosquito populations, she said UT-Rio Grande Valley student researchers are laying traps to count the number of eggs that are laid by the mosquitoes.

“It’s a big systematic kind of method,” Feria-Arroyo said. “The students are placing the traps and monitoring them every week in the different locations. They count the eggs and they report (the number of) eggs.”

Researchers from the Southern United States and Northern Mexico met in February to discuss the project, Feria-Arroyo said. At the meeting, which grew out of a partnership between the CDC and CENAPRECE, researchers laid out a program to monitor the virus-carrying mosquitoes was laid out, according to the UTRGV press release.

Now, the students collect, analyze and present data under the guidance of Feria-Arroyo.

“We have six students, and one of the students gets to report every Friday,” Feria-Arroyo said. “It's very intensive work for the students.”

UT-Austin field biologist Alejandro Santillana said the collaboration between the two countries could greatly benefit the students.

“I think it’s great that (these) students are involved in this binational effort,” Santillana said. “The community must be involved and informed, and that's where students come in. By participating in research, they are getting a perspective on the mosquito problem that the community may have missed otherwise.”

Feria-Arroyo said that differences between the two countries could manageable problems to the research.

“The challenges we might be facing are related to the weather and the conditions in the US that are different in Mexico,” Feria-Arroyo said. “In Mexico, they don't spray that often, or spray for mosquitoes like they do (in the U.S.).”

Feria-Arroyo said that the most rewarding part of the project is meeting the people involved in the project, especially the students.

“It’s been meeting and knowing all these people and knowing that we can collaborate and do things in a very positive way,” Feria-Arroyo said. “We’re on the border, we need each other.”

According to the UT-Rio Grande Valley press release, many of the students are excited about the implications of their work.

“Working with the CDC and CENAPRECE really makes us feel like we’re a part of something big,” biology sophomore Marcelo Pintos said in the release.

Feria-Arroyo said she is optimistic about the future of the project, which will hold another meeting in September.

“I think it's very important to show that we can do it,” Feria-Arroyo said. “And we can do it together, hand in hand.”