Grant to Entomologist Will Advance Research on African Malaria Mosquito

UC Riverside’s Bradley White will produce a critical tool aimed at crippling Anopheles gambiae

Photo shows Bradley White.

Bradley White is an assistant professor of entomology at UC Riverside.Photo credit: White Lab, UC Riverside.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Malaria, the most deadly mosquito-borne disease, kills more than 500,000 people each year, with more than 90 percent of the deaths occurring in sub-Saharan Africa.  While poverty and poor medical care contribute to the African malaria burden, the importance of the uniquely efficient mosquito vectors present in Africa cannot be overlooked.

One particularly promising area of research involves genetic engineering of mosquitoes to prevent transmission.  Although great progress has been made in developing mosquitoes that cannot transmit malaria, more knowledge is needed before such mosquitoes can be released.

Bradley White, an assistant professor of entomology at the University of California, Riverside, has received a five-year grant of more than $1.8 million from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, one of the many institutes that make up the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The grant will allow his lab to produce fine-scale recombination rate maps for the African malaria mosquito, Anopheles gambiae.

The grant is a NIH “R01” grant, RO1 being an NIH activity code.  At 31, White is one of the youngest NIH R01 principal investigators in the country (well less than 1 percent of NIH principal investigators are 31 or younger).

“By the end of the project, we will have produced these recombination rate maps that can be used to model and predict the efficacy of various novel vector control strategies,” said White, who joined UC Riverside in 2011.  “Ultimately, this project will provide a critical tool in the ongoing fight against one of humanity’s ancient foes.”

Recombination is a fundamental biological process that occurs in all animals, and is a key factor underlying long-term natural selection and evolution. For example, Child A inherits two copies of each chromosome—one from its father and one from its mother. Before Child A passes on his/her chromosome to his/her child (say, Child B), recombination or genetic exchange occurs between the chromosomes Child A inherited from its parents. What Child A passes on to Child B ends up being a mosaic chromosome containing portions derived from both of Child A’s parents. The frequency of recombination varies across the genome and between sexes, with females generally having higher recombination than males.

White, a member of UCR’s Center for Disease Vector Research, said his lab has already developed a high-throughput protocol using cutting-edge genomics and bioinformatic techniques to map recombination “breakpoints” in Anopheles gambiae.

The grant will help support two postdoctoral researchers, three graduate students, and two undergraduates in his lab.

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