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Support for Mosquito and Mosquito-borne Disease Research

Mosquitoes and mosquito-borne diseases continue to plague mankind throughout the world. The world has made tremendous progress in combating mosquitoes since arthropods were first recognized as vectors of human and animal pathogens more than 100 years ago. The first reports showing pathogen transmission by arthropods were milestone achievements in public health and medicine with discoveries of tick transmission of Texas cattle fever by Theobald Smith and Frederick Kilbourne in 1893, mosquito transmission of malaria by Ronald Ross in 1897, and mosquito transmission of yellow fever virus by Walter Reed, Aristedes Agramonte, James Carroll, and Jesse Lazear in 1901.

Since these pioneering studies there has been enormous progress that continues to the present day. However, what has been the extent of the overall effort? Why is there still a need for more research? Why have we yet to put mosquito pests and mosquito-borne disease to rest as a plague on humans? Obviously the issues are very complex.

If you think that scientists and researchers have expended a large amount of resources and effort studying vector borne disease, you are right. But, then again, it is sobering to look at this effort in comparison to efforts on other zoological research topics for perspective.

In order to gauge the research effort on mosquitoes and mosquito-borne disease I did a search of published papers by keyword topics using the scientific publication search engine PubMed. You too can access PubMed at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez. PubMed is the library catalogue of the U.S. National Library of Medicine. It contains several million citations with abstracts of medically published work going back to 1949. It is considered one of the most extensive sources for scientific publications throughout the world. I used PubMed as a rough approximation to gauge the research efforts on various topics realizing that even PubMed will miss peer-reviewed scientific publications.

he accompanying table provides the results from my search listed by publication topic with the respective number of scientific publications from PubMed since 1949. For comparison I also did a search on the published research during the same period on the common fruit fly, genus Drosophila. Note Drosophila, particularly the species Drosophila melanogaster, has been a primary laboratory animal for genetics research ever since T. H. Morgan began genetic studies on this species at Columbia University in the early part of the 20th century.

Key Words No. Publications Key Words No. Publications
Aedes albopictus 1304 Dengue 4992
Aedes aegypti 3574 Malaria 40560
Aedes taeniorhynchus 168 St. Louis encephalitis 646
Anopheles gambiae 1512 Venezuelan equine encephalitis 1163
Culex pipiens 1338 Vesicular Stomatitis 6363
Culex quinquefasciatus 1143 West Nile encephalitis 2444
Culex nigripalpus 118 Yellow Fever 3026
Aedes 8127 Drosophila 54846
Anopheles 7953 Drosophila melanogaster 25466
Culex 5044 Drosophila genetics 39653
Culicoides 1145 Drosophila alcohol dehydrogenase 717
Psorophora 128 Drosophila sex 4026
Wyeomyia 51 Drosophila behavior 2956
Mosquito 24696 Silkworm 3584
Mosquito Insecticides 3234    

The results are sobering. By far more publications have appeared on Drosophila then all of the major mosquito genera combined! There are almost as many publications on Drosophila sex as all Culex papers combined. The number of publications on Drosophila sex exceeds the numbers on Aedes albopictus, or Aedes aegypti, or Anopheles gambiae. A single well studied Drosophila gene, alcohol dehydrogenase, has over 700 publications. This is approximately as many publications as on St. Louis encephalitis, or Venezuelan equine encephalitis and compares to the number of publications on Culex quinquefasciatus! Clearly the research enterprise and information base on Drosophila far exceeds that for mosquitoes and mosquito-borne disease. This is the result of the general importance that Drosophila has provided to our fundamental knowledge about genetics in general. Note the 6,363 publications on vesicular stomatitis. The large number of publications listed for vesicular stomatitis is not because the resulting disease is more important then say West Nile, but because Vesicular stomatitis virus is a laboratory workhorse for many investigations in basic virology.

The Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory, celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2006, has produced more than 1,300 peer reviewed publications on mosquitoes and mosquito borne disease. The impact of the FMEL publications on Florida mosquito control has been substantial. A list of the FMEL publications can be viewed at the FMEL website (http://fmel.ifas.ufl.edu/index.htm), by selecting "Publications," and then "Index." The majority of FMEL publications are on Florida's pest mosquitoes. The FMEL has published the large majority of the world's literature on Culex nigripalpus, and Ochlerotatus taeniorynchus, all because of their importance in Florida. However, it is readily apparent that there is much more to do to provide Florida mosquito control with more information about Florida's mosquitoes so that our efforts at mosquito control and mosquito borne disease prevention in Florida become ever more efficient, effective, and environmentally proper.

Each year mosquito control research in Florida is supported by $250,000 with state funds administered by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. These funds are essential to support work addressing high priority issues that specifically confront Florida mosquito control. Unfortunately the research funding authorization for Florida mosquito control research has remained flat for more than a decade, and is 50% of the authorization in 1990. Each year, a group of expert reviewers are forced to make very difficult decisions to award the remaining meager funds to ca. 15-20% of the deserving projects that are submitted for funding. In this environment of reduced available funds, and one year projects, too often projects are planned that are scaled back to meet the available funding, or very important projects are never proposed because the funds are insufficient to meet the goals and/or needs. Florida mosquito control must face the fact that the small amount of available research funds is supporting less and less research each year directed to Florida's specific issues. Our investment in obtaining new information to improve Florida mosquito control has actually declined.

Scientists at Florida's two major State mosquito research laboratories have been successful in obtaining essential support funds from a variety of Federal, local government and industry sources. These funds have been critical to mosquito research in Florida to address Florida's mosquito control issues, as well as providing important information to mosquito control elsewhere in the U.S. and the world. The labs continue to add to the research literature. However, improving Florida mosquito and mosquitoborne disease control demands a greater research effort, not a declining effort. More projects need to be supported with Florida's mosquito control research funds, and more papers need to be published to add to the research literature and move Florida mosquito control forward. Florida must increase its research investment to meet new challenges and we need to find solutions for those challenges that are unique to Florida.

The Florida mosquito control research funds directly target Florida mosquito control issues. The importance of having such research funds to specifically target Florida's mosquito control issues cannot be overestimated

Walter J. Tabachnick, Ph.D
Professor
Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory
Department of Entomology and Nematology
University of Florida, IFAS