In 2006, I took a course in Ecology instructed by Dr. Jeremy McNeil and subsequently chemical ecology instructed by him the next year. In this course, we learned about the interactions between plants and plants, plants and insects, and insects and insects using chemicals in the air. For example, we learned a plant could respond to an insect feeding on it by releasing chemicals that attract the herbivores predators, ultimately helping protect the plant. He provided examples of how such natural interactions between plants and insects had been used for very economic and sustainable pest management practices in regions where insecticidal or monetary resources were limited. His courses inspired me to pursue a career in entomology, specifically in the area of crop protection, and the ability to travel internationally to aid in crop protection is a wish come true.
In two days I fly to Guyana for the Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer program. I will be spending two weeks there: most of the first week will be spent visiting the farms, getting to know them and plant protection challenges. Week two I will be on a workshop/training spree, providing programs every morning and afternoon on topics ranging from scouting/monitoring, recognizing pests, recognizing beneficial insects, how to prevent pest outbreaks, physical and mechanical controls, biological control, and chemical control.
Before traveling overseas, you always need to check what kinds of vaccines or shots you need to take. Our local “travel” nurse practitioner in Tyler TX followed the CDC guidelines for travel to Guyana. I must admit, the Typhoid pills were a bit unpleasant, especially since I did not anticipate the side-effects of twisting/turning stomach and subsequent increased frequency to the porcelain throne for a few days. Interesting fact: apparently the vaccine for yellow fever is in limited is temporarily depleted, apparently due to manufacturing delays from the only supplier. An alternate is available (Stamaril) if I had time to book an appointment in Dallas. So… I’ll be rolling the dice on that one! I started taking my Malaria pills yesterday (two days before travel) – hopefully that are no unpleasant surprises with that one.
Malaria actually describes a protozoan parasite that invades the red blood cells and transmitted by mosquitoes. Interestingly, the parasite alters the feeding behavior of mosquitoes in two distinct ways: larger blood meals and more blood meal hosts (Koella et al. 1998). More specifically, they found that the mosquito takes larger blood meals when the parasite is in a stage in which the parasite can infect humans. When malaria infects humans, it can occupy both the blood (human blood cell stage) and the liver (human liver stage) (Medicines for Malaria Venture), sometimes remaining dormant in the liver for months or years before coming back in the blood and resurfacing symptoms. Speaking of symptoms, malaria infection can cause fever, chills, headache, nausea & vomiting, and muscle pain and fatigue (Mayo Clinic). In 2016 alone, it was estimated that 445,000 people died from malaria, most young children in sub-Sahara Africa (CDC: Malaria). One potential mechanism to reduce malaria is the use of transgenic mosquitoes – that is, mosquitoes that are genetically engineered to be unable to harbor the parasite, and thus, unable to vector it to humans. Marrelli and colleagues (2007) demonstrated that not only was their transgenic mosquito no longer able to vector malaria, but it actually had a fitness advantage compared to the wild mosquitoes – an important requirement if you’re going to replace all the wild mosquitoes with ones that don’t vector the virus (i.e. Gene Drive).
I finished packing and look forward to learning a lot on this trip, and hope to share what I learn, my experiences at the farms, and a bit about Guyana itself here – so stay tuned!