Professor and Students Wage War on Mosquitoes

NSU Professor and Students Wage War on Mosquitoes

Dr. Tartar Was Awarded The Chancellor's Faculty Research and Development Grant for His Research Project
Students Get Hands-On Experience in the Lab with the Freedom to Make Discoveries on Their Own

You can swat them, spray them, or sequester yourself indoors during the rainy season. But, when you live in South Florida, it's hard to avoid becoming a mosquito magnet. To Aurelien Tartar, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences, mosquitoes are more than pests. These ubiquitous insects are carriers of numerous infectious diseases, including malaria and West Nile virus. Tartar is committed to long-term research that is, in part, using genome sequencing to identify and develop natural insecticides that will help eradicate the mosquito and its associated diseases.

"There isn't a lot of work being done on the diseases that affect the mosquitoes themselves," Tartar said. "I am interested in discovering novel insecticides that would be completely natural but effective against mosquitoes and propose these insecticides as a way to get rid of mosquitoes and all mosquito-borne diseases."

In spring 2010, Tartar was awarded the Chancellor's Faculty Research and Development Grant for his project titled "The Detection of Mosquito Pathogens in the Everglades Using Metagenomic Technologies." Additional funding was awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In his research, Tartar is using genomic methodologies—modern DNA/genome sequencing techniques—to "get a sense of what type of microbes can kill mosquitoes, sequence their genomes, and determine the genes that are used in the infectious/insecticidal process," he said.

The research focuses on Lagenidium giganteum, a parasitic organism known to infect and kill mosquito larvae. This organism could assist in creating an environmentally safe insecticide. In the lab, Tartar and students at the college sought to identify the genes in Lagenidium giganteum that stop development of the larvae. Tartar's research aims to detail the molecular basis of the pathogenic process.

"Now that we are more advanced in microbiology and we know that most biological activity comes from genes, one major objective is to discover an insecticide by working with insect diseases," he said.

Students Alexa Vyain, Tulsi Patel, and Jennifer Grant performed daily lab activities and played an active role in the research. They presented aspects of this research at the 2011 Undergraduate Student Symposium before graduating from the college in May 2011. While the hands-on experience in the lab complemented the students' classroom lessons, it also offered a deeper understanding of research and the freedom to explore and make discoveries on their own.

"The benefits of working on a research project such as this are that we get experience in the lab outside of the short time that we are in there during classes, when we don't always understand what we are actually doing and why," said Vyain, who earned a B.S. in Biology and is now attending NSU's College of Pharmacy.

"Working in the lab with Dr. Tartar enabled me to understand the theory behind laboratory techniques and what you really can take from performing these experiments," Vyain said. "This has given me a taste of what it might be like working in a lab during pharmacy school and beyond. And it opened my eyes to the reality of how research can truly make a difference in the future."

"In the lab, it is a relaxed atmosphere, and we are working completely on our own, asking questions as we go along if we are not sure about something," Vyain said. "I love the feeling of having all the lab tools and equipment at my fingertips. Working in the research lab makes me feel like I am working on something of value."

"I'm able to take control of my own research and develop my own techniques, which I can use in the future," said Grant, who earned a B.S. in Applied Professional Studies with a concentration in biology and physical science. "I thoroughly enjoy working in this lab. I actually wake up excited to learn new techniques and see what DNA I have extracted. I do the work on my own and at my own pace with guidance from Dr. Tartar."

"This research is extremely beneficial because it is a step toward eliminating and controlling death-causing diseases carried by mosquitoes," said Patel, who earned a B.S. in Biology and is now attending NSU's College of Pharmacy as part of the Dual Admission Program. "It will help us understand and treat diseases and help develop non-chemical insecticides that help the environment."

Working alongside experienced researchers and mentors like Tartar on in-depth projects teaches students to become comfortable with research and familiar with lab techniques.

"It's important for an undergraduate student to get a sense of what it is like working in the lab," Tartar said. "All my projects are used as training vectors for undergraduate students so they can gain a better understanding and hands-on experience with genomic and bioinformatics techniques."