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Science Unwrapped: tracking mosquitoes

Muhammad Mahdi Karim

Mosquitos are among the most impactful vectors of disease in the world. Dr. Norah Saarman is a researcher at Utah State University in the biology department and Ecology Center who studies the distribution of one particularly dangerous invasive mosquito species, Aedes aegypti. This species is known for spreading Zika virus and Dengue fever and has a growing range across southern Utah. 

“About half of the human population is at risk of getting these diseases.  The link between human-to-human transmission is actually the mosquito. So, if you take away the mosquitoes, you take away the link, and you no longer get transmission of the disease. If we could actually break that transmission cycle, you can get to a point where you can eliminate diseases.”

Using small components of DNA and satellite images, Dr. Saarman studies where these mosquitoes live and how they move across the landscape.

“We kind of think of mosquitoes as being these outdoor pests when we go out to go camping. But in truth, the most dangerous mosquitoes are those that specialize in living in and around humans. The species that I am focusing on, Aedes aegypti, is actually an invasive species that lives throughout the world, only because they are so good at living with humans. They actually have a bunch of adaptations to even smell humans. So they will choose a human over a guinea pig for example to bite, And they also have adapted to our surroundings so that they now will even prefer to lay their eggs in like a piece of trash than they would to lay their eggs in like a tree hole or a place where they would naturally be occurring.”

On October 29th, Dr. Saarman presented her research at this month’s Science Unwrapped program in Logan.  The talk is recorded and available here.

Colleen Meidt is a science reporter at UPR as well as a PhD student at Utah State University. She studies native bees in the Mojave Desert and is particularly interested studying the conservation status of the Mojave Poppy Bee. In her free time, Colleen enjoys photography and rock climbing in the canyons.