Walter Tabachnick: Research Interests & Personal Background

I developed interest in evolutionary biology as a result of an undergraduate course taught by Dr. Stanley Salthe at Brooklyn College. I became interested in research in this area and I began graduate studies with Dr. Don Underhill at Rutgers University on the population genetics of salamanders. After receiving my PhD I worked for a short time as an Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin in Kenosha, Wisconsin. I realized that Drosophila provided the best model organisms for population genetics studies and I decided I should switch to working with these species. As a result I contacted Dr. Jeffrey Powell at Yale University about the possibility of my working with him on Drosophila population genetics as a Postdoctoral Fellow. Fortunately for me, he had worked as an undergraduate with Dr. George Craig at Notre Dame and still had an interest in mosquitoes. He asked if I would consider working on the population genetics of mosquitoes as a postdoctoral fellow with him instead of Drosophila. Thus began some very interesting and productive work with Jeff Powell and Graham Wallis on the yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti.

Shortly after beginning the Ae. aegypti studies I was fortunate to begin a series of collaborations with several outstanding people at the Yale Arbovirus Research Unit just across town from our laboratory in the Department of Biology. I collaborated with Drs. Thomas Aitken, Barry Beaty, and Barry Miller. It was through my interactions with this outstanding group that I became interested in the role of insect vectors of disease in disease epidemiology, and I began studies to understand genetic and environmental factors that control a vector insect's capacity to become infected and transmit vector borne pathogens.

I later accepted a position at Loyola University of Chicago and later I decided that moving to the USDA ARS Arthropod borne Diseases Laboratory in Laramie Wyoming to work on animal diseases provided an exciting opportunity. There I worked with Dr. Tom Walton, Fred Holbrook and later Ed Schmidtmann in an exciting environment where we were able to work in BL-3 containment on arthropod-borne animal pathogens, like bluetongue and vesicular stomatitis and the genetics of Culicoides vectors of these pathogens. These studies culminated in understanding bluetongue virus epidemiology in the U.S. that has resulted in substantial economic impact on the U.S. cattle industry through reductions in non tariff trade barriers.

I arrived at the FMEL in Vero Beach in 1999 to become the Director of this world renowned laboratory. The faculty at the FMEL are outstanding authorities in medical entomology. The FMEL provides unique opportunities for multi-disciplinary studies on vector borne diseases. Current work in my laboratory is focused on different species of Culex and West Nile virus with special attention to the southeastern United States.

I continue to seek to provide understanding of insect genetic and environmental factors that impact insect ability to transmit human and animal pathogens. This area of work has direct implications for reducing the impact of insect borne disease since by understanding controlling mechanisms responsible for disease transmission we provide information that is essential to predict potential outbreaks of disease (risk assessment). In addition new disease intervention and mosquito control strategies result from greater understanding of essential controlling mechanisms (risk mitigation). Our work is conducted in collaboration with several FMEL faculty and faculty at several other institutions.

We use a variety of laboratory tools and strategies that utilize molecular biology, genetics, arbovirology and insect behavior integrated with field studies that validate and utilize our information in natural situations, particularly epidemic vector borne disease. My research has been supported by funds from NIH, USDA, and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.