The neuroscience and molecular genetics of mosquito chemosensation

Mosquitoes are the deadliest animals on the planet. Many species use sophisticated sensory systems, including smell and taste, to locate human beings and other animal hosts in their environment as a source of blood. When they blood-feed, they can transmit microorganisms that cause human diseases including malaria and dengue fever. After converting a blood-meal into eggs, a female mosquito must find an appropriate body of water to lay eggs where her offspring will thrive. Selecting an egg-laying site is an important part of the mosquito lifecycle, since the juvenile larval and pupal stages are aquatic and cannot move from where they hatch. Mosquitoes do not fly far, and so their choice of breeding site strongly influences where they can be found as adults and thus, where they can transmit disease.

The goal of my research is to understand how mosquitoes use their sense of smell and taste to make decisions about who to bite and where to lay eggs. I use techniques to modify their DNA and to look at the activity in their brains under a microscope. Ultimately, this research will help us understand why some mosquitoes are more deadly than others and provide the basis for mosquito control strategies such as traps and repellents.