Project

R01 NIH - Understanding mosquito movement and its relevance to control through genetic analysis

Goal: Mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue and Zika have proven to be very difficult to control with currently-available tools. Genetics-based tools could be transformative in controlling these diseases, but their safety and efficacy is dependent on how mosquitoes move around, their mating behavior, and their numbers.

We will track mosquito movement by determining how far apart closely-related mosquitoes are found, using genome sequences to determine relatedness. In previous studies to measure movement, mosquitoes have been marked with fluorescent dust, but this marking process itself affects the movement. We will also use genomics data to infer other demographic parameters, such as mosquito population size and mating behavior.

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Project log

Gordana Rašić
added a research item
Rising temperatures and increasing temperature variability are impacting the range and prevalence of mosquito-borne disease. A promising biocontrol technology replaces wild mosquitoes with those carrying the virus-blocking Wolbachia bacterium. Laboratory and field observations show that the most widely used strain, wMel, is adversely affected by heat stress. Here, we examine whether and how climate warming may impact wMel-based replacement. We integrate empirical data on the temperature sensitivity of wMel bacteria into a mechanistic model of population dynamics for the dengue vector Aedes aegypti and use CMIP5 climate projections and historical temperature records from Cairns, Australia to simulate vector control interventions. We show that higher mean temperatures are predicted to lower wMel infection frequency and that extended heatwaves have the potential to reverse the public health benefits of this intervention. Sensitivity analysis probing the thermal limits of wMel replacement reveal that, under existing projections, operational adaptations would be required for heatwaves lasting longer than two weeks. We conclude that this technology is expected to be robust to both the increased mean temperatures and heatwaves associated with near-term climate change in temperate regions. However, more rapid warming or tropical and inland regions that presently feature hotter baselines may challenge these tested limits, requiring further research.
Gordana Rašić
added a research item
Close-kin mark-recapture (CKMR) methods have recently been used to infer demographic parameters such as census population size and survival for fish of interest to fisheries and conservation. These methods have advantages over traditional mark-recapture methods as the mark is genetic, removing the need for physical marking and recapturing that may interfere with parameter estimation. For mosquitoes, the spatial distribution of close-kin pairs has been used to estimate mean dispersal distance, of relevance to vector-borne disease transmission and novel biocontrol strategies. Here, we extend CKMR methods to the life history of mosquitoes and comparable insects. We derive kinship probabilities for mother-offspring, father-offspring, full-sibling and half-sibling pairs, where an individual in each pair may be a larva, pupa or adult. A pseudo-likelihood approach is used to combine the marginal probabilities of all kinship pairs. To test the effectiveness of this approach at estimating mosquito demographic parameters, we develop an individual-based model of mosquito life history incorporating egg, larva, pupa and adult life stages. The simulation labels each individual with a unique identification number, enabling close-kin relationships to be inferred for sampled individuals. Using the dengue vector Aedes aegypti as a case study, we find the CKMR approach provides unbiased estimates of adult census population size, adult and larval mortality rates, and larval life stage duration for logistically feasible sampling schemes. Considering a simulated population of 3,000 adult mosquitoes, estimation of adult parameters is accurate when a total of 1,000 adult females are sampled biweekly-to-fortnightly over a three month period. Estimation of larval parameters is accurate when adult sampling is supplemented with a total of 4,000 larvae sampled biweekly over the same period. As the cost of genome sequencing declines, these methods hold great promise for characterizing the demography of mosquitoes and comparable insects of epidemiological and agricultural significance. Author summary Close-kin mark-recapture (CKMR) methods are a genetic analogue of traditional mark-recapture methods in which the frequency of marked individuals in a sample is used to infer demographic parameters such as census population size and mean dispersal distance. In CKMR, the mark is a close-kin relationship between individuals (parents and offspring, siblings, etc.). While CKMR methods have mostly been applied to aquatic species to date, opportunities exist to apply them to insects and other terrestrial species. Here, we explore the application of CKMR to mosquitoes, with Aedes aegypti , a primary vector of dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever, as a case study. By analyzing simulated Ae. aegypti populations, we find the CKMR approach provides unbiased estimates of adult census population size, adult and larval mortality rates, and larval life stage duration. Optimal sampling schemes are consistent with Ae. aegypti ecology and field studies, requiring only minor adjustments to current mosquito surveillance programs. This study represents the first theoretical exploration of the application of CKMR to an insect species, and demonstrates its potential for characterizing the demography of insects of epidemiological and agricultural importance.
Gordana Rašić
added a project goal
Mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue and Zika have proven to be very difficult to control with currently-available tools. Genetics-based tools could be transformative in controlling these diseases, but their safety and efficacy is dependent on how mosquitoes move around, their mating behavior, and their numbers.
We will track mosquito movement by determining how far apart closely-related mosquitoes are found, using genome sequences to determine relatedness. In previous studies to measure movement, mosquitoes have been marked with fluorescent dust, but this marking process itself affects the movement. We will also use genomics data to infer other demographic parameters, such as mosquito population size and mating behavior.