MANATEE -- Mosquitoes excel at two things: surviving and reproducing, said Aparna Telang, assistant professor of biology at the University of South Florida, Sarasota-Manatee.
"Insects are the most dominant life force on Earth," Telang said.
Telang is leading a two-year research project aimed at reducing the number of mosquitoes, which balloons after every rainstorm, despite efforts to eradicate them with pesticides or limiting places where they can lay eggs.
Telang thinks the answer may be found in the tiny mosquito bodies -- not in the abandoned tire carelessly left in a field collecting water.
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The USF Sarasota-Manatee research team of Telang and interns Ruby Ramos, Zach Nemitz, Nicole Carswell and Carissa Santiago will dissect mosquitoes using high-powered microscopes and run tests to look for bacteria.
The ability to control the bacteria, which mosquitoes depend on, could help control their population, Telang said.
Mosquitoes, which sometimes carry the vector for dengue fever or West Nile virus, can present a serious health threat.
Ramos, a 17-year-old 2014 graduate of Manatee High School, said the mosquito control project is a perfect fit for her.
"I want to go to medical school and specialize in infectious diseases," Ramos
said. "My mosquitoes will be fed blood infected with malaria."
The study will be conducted in a modular building at USF Sarasota-Manatee and tightly controlled for safety. The lab already includes climate-controlled incubators and a centrifuge.
The research team will pick up its first 100 mosquitoes and 200 mosquito eggs Wednesday from Manatee Mosquito Control in Palmetto.
The southern house mosquitoes will be used to raise a colony in the USF Sarasota-Manatee laboratory. The southern house mosquito can be found in the area throughout the year and may pass along the vector for heartworm to dogs.
"It's always exciting to have collaboration with university researchers," said Chris Lesser, assistant director of Manatee Mosquito Control.
Team members will work with Manatee and Sarasota mosquito control offices to study mosquito and bird transmission of West Nile virus and the St. Louis encephalitis virus, including checking feces from sentinel chickens to see if the birds carry the virus.
James A. Jones Jr., Herald reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.