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UF/IFAS grad student wins prize for mosquito trap research

Casey Parker Environmental Portrait Mosquito Housing

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Casey Parker came to the University of Florida aspiring to be a pharmacist. But chemistry wasn’t for her. So, she took a class called “Bugs and People,” and the professor at the time, Carl Barfield, convinced her to study entomology.

“I loved everything about it,” Parker said of studying insects. “It’s something people don’t think about very much. They’re around, but we don’t think, ‘they do so many crazy things in our world.’ They transmit tons of diseases that affect humans and animals.”

Parker did so well academically that she graduated last year and continued her master’s studies at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Department of Entomology and Nematology. The graduate entomology student recently won the ONE WORLD competition, organized by the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Challenge 2050 Project in conjunction with the Syngenta Good Growth Plan. She was awarded $2,000 for her work.

“I was really honored,” Parker said, adding that she felt humbled to be among the other five student finalists – dubbed “The Solution 6” — all of whom created outstanding innovations.

Parker took top prize with research on a novel mosquito trap she is developing with her advisors. She wanted to use the trap to reduce the population of Asian Tiger and Yellow Fever mosquitoes. With help from faculty advisors, Parker created the trap, which has a rough, ridged interior surface. These mosquito species like to lay their eggs on the rough surfaces, she said.

Mosquitoes hatch in containers that hold water. These include bird baths, tires, empty flower pots and more.

“It makes it hard to control because there are so many things in your backyard that can be breeding grounds for these mosquitoes,” Parker said. Current control methods include things like aerial pesticide spraying, but they expose humans to chemical dangers. This trap helps minimize human pesticide exposure.

For their experiment, the researchers applied two chemicals in one spray pesticide along the walls of the container. One type of chemical was used for immature mosquitoes and one for adults. Parker and her fellow researchers then put water in the trap to attract the mosquitoes. One insecticide leaches into the water, preventing the immature mosquitoes from developing. The other insecticide killed most of the adult mosquitoes when they landed on the interior of the trap.

The researchers monitored adult mosquito mortality by recording the dead ones inside and outside of the trap. About 98 percent of the adult mosquitoes died within two to three days. Thus far, the experiment led by Parker, which she’s using for her master’s thesis, shows 83 percent reduction in the mosquito egg population in lab studies.

After earning a master’s degree, Parker wants to attain a doctorate in entomology, with a goal of working in research and development, perhaps for the World Health Organization or another government entity.

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Cutline: UF/IFAS entomology graduate student Casey Parker pours liquid into a container to trap mosquitoes. She won the top prize at the recent ONE WORLD competition for the research she’s conducting with faculty advisors, including UF/IFAS urban entomology Professor Phil Koehler. ONE WORLD was organized by the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Challenge 2050 Project in conjunction with the Syngenta Good Growth Plan.

Credit: Amy L. Stuart, UF/IFAS photographer.

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

Sources: Casey Parker, 352-895-6878, caseyparker@ufl.edu

Phil Koehler, 352-273-3951, pgk@ufl.edu