Rock Neurogenetics Lab In the Press for Mosquito Research, Fashion Scents
How is it that a prominent Rockefeller University professor and director of the Laboratory of Neurogenetics and Behavior is sought out by a fashion magazine one month, the New York Magazine the next, and a CBS interview just last week? Dr. Leslie Vosshall studies the mechanism of scent recognition in humans on the one hand, and attraction to humans by mosquitos on the other. We still know so little about smell, and even less about why an insect like the mosquito hones in on one of us more often than another, but the Vosshall Lab is adding insight to the genetic basis of olfactory recognition. Given that mosquitos are a global vector for disease, including right here in the U.S., Vosshall's research aims to find out what it is about a particular one of us that excites the little bug to such raptures. If we know that, perhaps we can intervene productively to keep them at bay. As for the fashion magazine (Elle Canada), they wanted an expert on scent to comment on designers' and retailers' new fad for marketing their products with a scent component.
There's just no telling where a science career will take you...Dr. Vosshall is a smart, stylish woman scientist at the top of her field in New York City; she also regularly sticks her naked arm in a tank of hungry mosquitos "to keep them healthy." (Watch the video through this link, if you have a strong stomach.)
[Dr. Vosshall, center, with colleagues at the annual Rockefeller Women & Science Lecture and Luncheon fundraiser; photo courtesy of Panache Privee]
Mosquitos are savvy. No sooner have we figured out a way to knock them down with a new insecticide than a few hearty individuals develop immunity and we have to start over. And even when we're keeping pace and perhaps even gaining ground, a warm winter like that of 2011-2012 comes along and the population multiplies even faster (which is to say it simply never dies out in many places).
And lest you think we're safe from disease here in the U.S., consider these facts:
- West Nile Virus infected about 700 people in the U.S. last year
- The rare Eastern Equine Encephalitis, or EEE, causes fatalities here
- Only aggressive mosquito control programs (mostly spraying) keep infection low in many parts of the country
- Coastal mosquitoes can easily fly 25 miles a day, so spraying cannot be limited to highly populated areas
- There are about 150 species of mosquito in North America; close to 60 in the New York area alone
- Culex pipiens, the common house mosquito, can carry the West Nile Virus, but at least it would rather bite a bird than you
- Other species, such as Anopheles gambiae, the principle vector of malaria, prefers humans over all other animals, at least here in the U.S.
- Only female mosquitos bite, and then only to feed their eggs on blood
[Two species of mosquito—the common, lightercolored Culex pipiens, also known as the northern house mosquito, and the darker, fierce newcomer, the Aedes albopictus, or Asian tiger.
(Photo: Plamen Petkov, New York Magazine)]
Dr. Vosshall is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and a full professor at Rockefeller University, where she also received her PhD in 1993. Her lab work is described this way in her faculty bio:
The overall goal of work in the Vosshall laboratory is to understand how complex behaviors are modulated by external chemosensory cues and internal physiological states...One member of the odorant gene family, Orco is of particular interest to the Vosshall lab, as it is unique in being expressed in nearly all olfactory neurons and is highly conserved across insect evolution. Dr. Vosshall’s lab has shown that Orco functions as a coreceptor, working in tandem with odorant receptors in the dendrites of olfactory neurons, and has pinpointed this protein as a potential target for chemical inhibitors, which may help fight mosquito-transmitted infectious diseases.
We reported yesterday on another mosquito research lab doing groundbreaking genetics work on the West Coast. If you missed it, read: Irvine Research Lab Produces Trangenic Mosquitos to Combat Malaria. And remember to apply your DEET liberally this summer!
To meet life science laboratory researchers like Dr. Vosshall and her colleagues in the New York City life science community, plan to attend one or all of our Biotechnology Calendar, Inc. BioResearch Product Faire events in the fall on these dates:
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