Inside the Insectary: How BU Scientists Study Diseases from Mosquitoes—without Getting Bitten

Original article from The Brink by Devin Hahn & Andrew Thurston

It’s an unwanted ritual of summer: vainly splatting at mosquitoes as they nibble your exposed legs and arms, then enduring days of irritated itching from inflamed bites. For most Americans, it’s just an annoyance, but for many around the world, those bites can be deadly. Globally, 400,000 people die from malaria every year, another 40,000 from dengue—both diseases are primarily transmitted by mosquitoes.

At Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL), researchers are looking at ways to halt mosquito-borne viruses—known as arboviruses—by studying the role of mosquito saliva proteins in facilitating disease transmission.

They’re especially interested in Aedes aegypti mosquitoes—sometimes called the yellow fever mosquito—which is typically found in tropical and subtropical climates. This disease-carrying insect is now finding a home across much of the southern United States, and is expected to fly even farther north as the climate warms, potentially becoming a regular nuisance in New England and Canada by 2100.

At NEIDL, up to 2,000 mosquitoes are held in an Arthropod Containment Level 3 (ACL-3) insectary, with researchers having to make their way through a series of containment barriers to get to their lab to study the insects. Infected mosquitoes are locked in double cages, while mesh and plastic cover every lab entrance—researchers also keep bug zappers on hand as an added precaution. The biosafety measures allow the researchers—suited in Tyvek lab coats and N95 respirators—to study viruses commonly transmitted by Aedes aegypti, like chikungunya, dengue, West Nile, yellow fever, and Zika.


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