UF center director speaks on Zika at national roundtable

 

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Jorge Rey, who runs a University of Florida research and education center on the front line in the fight against Zika, brought his expertise to a roundtable discussion at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., focused on the latest methods to control the potentially deadly virus and other emerging pathogens.

Rey, director of the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory (FMEL) in Vero Beach, went to the nation’s capital last week to talk about how organizations can work together to control mosquitoes that transmit – or “vector” — the virus.

Multiple faculty members at the FMEL, part of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, are studying how to keep the mosquito species known as Aedes aegypti from infecting humans with the Zika virus. They also may wind up having to keep Aedes albopictus, another suspected Zika carrier, from infecting people.

“The fact that we work on both the vectors and the pathogens allows us to ask unique questions about the interactions between hosts, pathogens, vectors and the environment,” Rey said. “Because we are also involved in applied research, we maintain close links with vector control and public health agencies at the state, national and international levels.”

In citing examples of research and Extension work done at the lab, Rey cited a few of his faculty:

  • Distinguished Professor Phil Lounibos studies the ecology of important vector mosquitoes and factors that influence their distribution and abundance.
  • Assistant professor Barry Alto is studying the role of mosquito larval ecology in determining adult mosquito traits, and determining susceptibility to infection and transmission of emerging viruses by Florida mosquitoes. Alto also is developing diagnostic tests to detect viral RNA for viruses such as dengue, chikungunya and Zika viruses through collaborations with nonprofit and for-profit organizations.
  • Associate professor Chelsea Smartt is evaluating other mosquito species as possible Zika carriers and researching the genetics of insecticide resistance in important vectors.
  • Assistant Professor Nathan Burkett-Cadena is trying to develop field diagnostics for viruses.
  • Entomology Extension professor Roxanne Connelly reaches out to residents and the media with ways to prevent development of Zika vectors on their properties. Connelly also trains Extension agents on Zika prevention and avoidance as well as mosquito control personnel on mosquito abatement techniques and strategies. Connelly collaborated with local vector control and public health agencies to help manage the recent Zika outbreak in South Florida.

Rey’s presentation in Washington came as part of the Howard Baker Forum — founded by former U.S. Sen. Howard Baker of Tennessee — to provide a platform for examining specific, immediate, critical issues affecting the nation’s progress at home and its relations abroad.

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By: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, bradbuck@ufl.edu

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.

 

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