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Guest Scientist Blog: GO Oklahoma! Citizen Science Campaign


Dr. Caio França speaking at the Science Museum Oklahoma.

Oklahoma is an ecologically diverse state in the Southern Plains region of the U.S. It is part of the central flyway for migratory birds, which makes it a sentinel location for West Nile Virus (WNV) surveillance. Why birds? Birds play a role in the WNV transmission cycle. Mosquitoes become infected with WNV when they bite an infected bird. Birds can develop high levels of the virus in their bloodstream. Because WNV is usually non-lethal in birds, birds serve as reservoir hosts. In disease ecology, there are organisms that serve as natural reservoirs for the pathogen.  Reservoir hosts refer to organisms where the infectious pathogen naturally lives and reproduces. Mosquitoes acquire WNV through a blood meal from a bird and can then transmit the pathogen to humans. 

My research focus is on surveillance of mosquito-borne arboviruses with an emphasis on whole viral genome sequencing. I’m interested in discovering evolutionary elements that could provide key information about epidemiology, geographic range and spread of WNV strains.

The mosquito fauna of Oklahoma has 64 known different species of mosquitoes from nine different genera. These species occur seasonally and approximately only 10 of these species are considered medically important because they transmit diseases to people. Among these vectors, there are two invasive species that are especially important: the yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti) and the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus).

The current extended range of invasive Aedes mosquitoes in the U.S. changes the landscape for arboviral risk because they can transmit diseases like Zika, dengue, and chikungunya. To address this important public health issue, citizen scientists in the greater Oklahoma City metropolitan area were recruited to be part of GO Oklahoma, an intensive monitoring campaign in Oklahoma coordinated through NASA GLOBE Mission Mosquito. Citizen scientists monitor the presence of Aedes mosquitoes during the mosquito season using the GLOBE Observer Mosquito Habitat Mapper mobile app. We will focus on analyzing patterns of Asian tiger/yellow fever mosquito presence/absence in space and time and determine whether the presence of these Aedes mosquitoes is associated with environmental conditions in the surrounding landscape.

These two Aedes mosquito species have an interesting history in OK.  The presence of the yellow fever mosquito in Oklahoma was first described in 1933. Despite the cold winters of Oklahoma, this tropical and subtropical species withstood freezing temperatures in the egg stage and permanently established its presence, as first reported by the pioneer 1938 work of L. E. Rozeboom. Beginning in the 1950s, the yellow fever mosquito was nearly decimated in Oklahoma due to eradication efforts led by the spraying of DEET. In the late 1980s the Asian tiger mosquito was detected in Harris County (Houston) TX, and by the summer of 1990 was reported in five counties in Oklahoma. At present, the Asian tiger mosquito has been reported in 69 of the 77 Oklahoma counties and it has displaced the yellow fever mosquito to restricted areas near the Texas border. 

GO Oklahoma! is a collaboration between Dr. Mike Wimberly, University of Oklahoma, Dr. Caio França,  Southern Nazarene University and Dr. Russanne Low and Cassie Soeffing, The Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES), and the NASA GLOBE Observer Mission Mosquito campaign. For more information on GO Oklahoma or to volunteer for the campaign, contact Dr. França at cfranca@mail.snu.edu.

-Submitted by Caio França, Southern Nazarene University

 

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