Prestigious NIH fellowship helps student fight Asian mosquito invasion
Thirty years after Asian tiger mosquitos first arrived in the United States, an Illinois State student is working to stop their spread.
Peter Brabant’s work will take him throughout Illinois to examine the aquatic larval habitats of these black-and-white striped mosquitos, which are known to carry the West Nile virus. “The invasion of this species has been slow,” said Brabant, a doctoral student in the School of Biological Sciences. “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. It will be interesting to examine that invasion, and how it affects native mosquitos.”
The ultimate goal of the research is to help those looking to discourage the invasion of Asian tiger mosquitos by providing information on where the insects live and what kind of containers they are most likely to call home.
Brabant’s work has garnered the support of the National Institutes of Health (NIH): He is the first Illinois State student to receive the coveted Ruth L. Kirschstein Predoctoral Fellowship.
“These types of grants primarily go to students at large research-intensive universities,” said John Baur, interim associate vice president for Research and Graduate Studies. “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 gained an interest in mosquitos when he was an entomology major at the University of California at Riverside. Now he is working under the guidance of Illinois State Distinguished Professor of Biology Steven Juliano, who has received numerous grants from the NIH for his studies of mosquitos.
Along with the practical applications of helping to keep the growing Asian tiger mosquito population in check, Juliano said Brabant’s work will also add to the general knowledge on ecology. “Even if these insects were not a threat to humans because they are vectors for disease, they would still be intriguing for a biologist to investigate,” Juliano said. “This research could answer some evolutionary questions about what characteristics of native species are being selected to survive along with the invaders.”
Juliano noted that the work Brabant is doing is exactly what his lab at Illinois State is designed to do.
“When I saw the Kirschstein Fellowship, I thought it was tailor-made for Peter,” said Juliano. “The goal of any lab is to help students be successful in their career and lead the way for others.”
That recipe is what drew Brabant to Illinois State. “If you want to know what brought me to Illinois State, Steve did,” said Brabant. “I looked at several doctoral programs, but I knew this was where I wanted to be.”
Rachel Hatch can be reached at rkhatch@IllinoisState.edu.