Peter Brabant, a doctoral student in the School of Biological Sciences at Illinois State University, has been awarded a Ruth L. Kirschstein Predoctoral Fellowship from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This prestigious fellowship is the first time an Illinois State graduate student has received such an award from the NIH.
“These types of grants primarily go to students at large research-intensive universities,” said John Baur, interim associate vice president for research. “The fact one was awarded to a graduate student at Illinois State, an institution which prides itself in excellence in both teaching and research, is quite remarkable and reflects well on Peter and the mentoring he is receiving in the School of Biological Sciences.”
Brabant, who is working toward his Ph.D. in biological sciences, will use the support from the fellowship to pursue his research on larval habitats of mosquitos and how they affect production of adults. His research focuses on the Asian Tiger mosquito, an invasive species and known carrier of diseases such as the West Nile virus.
“I hope the research can be helpful to those who are looking to discourage the invasion of Asian Tiger mosquitos by providing information on where they live, and what kind of containers they are most likely to call home,” said Brabant.
Brabant earned a bachelor’s degree in entomology from the University of California at Riverside, known as one of the top entomology schools in the country. While finishing his master’s degree in entomology at the University of Kentucky, he worked on helping to develop a pesticide that would lead to mosquito sterilization. “It was what I like to call ‘bug birth control,’” he said. After completing his master’s, Brabant sought out Professor of Biology Steven Juliano to study in his lab at Illinois State.
“The Kirschstein Fellowship was tailor-made for Peter,” said Juliano, who has received numerous grants from the NIH for his studies of mosquitos. “Out of all the talented students in my lab, he is probably the most entomology-minded.”
The fellowship allows for four years of support through a graduate stipend and funds for travel. Brabant plans to travel throughout Illinois to examine aquatic larval habitats of Asian Tiger mosquitos. “The invasion of this species has been slow. It’s taken over Southern Illinois, is moving its way into the center and is almost absent north of Chicago. So it is still in the process of invading,” he said. “It will be interesting to examine that invasion, and how it affects native mosquitos.”
The NIH fellowship is named for Ruth Kirschstein, who was first woman director of an NIH Institute and championed research training for underrepresented individuals in the scientific workforce.