Conn conducts mosquito research in Puerto Rico

Gabe Smith, Campus Carrier staff writer

Bruce Conn, Henry Gund Professor of Biology, returned to campus this semester to teach following his research trip to Puerto Rico last semester. His work there was part of a larger research program, “From the Arctic to the Equator,” which focuses primarily on mosquitoes and their role as a disease vector (a means by which a disease is transmitted). His past and present research has vital public health implications. 

“Within the last six years, we have had two major new incursions of disease into the Western Hemisphere,” Conn said. “These diseases will often hit in the Caribbean, and then move south into South America or north into North America.” 

In the past, Conn’s work has been utilized by the government to identify and respond to potential public health threats. In 2010, for instance, he was among a select group of advisers that reported to the State Department about the threat of Chicken Guinea virus in Brazil preceding the World Cup. Today, his work continues and provides valuable research opportunities for Berry students. 

Students can access research opportunities generated by Conn’s work both through the One Health program or through other research projects, such as an Honors Thesis. Berry is one of the only institutions in the country to offer an undergraduate One Health program, according to Conn, and its campus is located in a prime location for this type of research on mosquitoes, making it a prime location for student research. 

The One Health program is a program that combines the study of the health of animals, humans and the environment. It looks at how all three areas impact each other and combines local, national, and global views on seeking the best response for a health issue. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that this program is crucial to the study of infectious disease because about six out of every 10 diseases is spread to humans from animals. 

Senior Hannah Atsma, one of the students who conducted research under Conn, said that her work for Conn was a valuable supplement to the research she performed for her Honors Thesis. 

“It’s nice to be able to have first-hand trapping experience on-campus,” Atsma said. 

Trapping refers to the process of collecting mosquitoes in scented traps so they may be identified and analyzed by researchers. The latter part, identification of the mosquitoes, is where the majority of the work lies, according to senior Anna Claire Tucker, another research assistant to Conn. Tucker said the identification process involves using dichotomous keys to sort through collected mosquitoes and determine their exact variety. 

“You have two pictures, and you figure out, the mosquito you’re looking at, does it look more like picture one or picture two? And through doing that a bunch of times, you can narrow it down to the species level,” Tucker said. 

Both students agree that Conn’s research and supervision have given them experience and provided a valuable supplement to their other academic and research activity.

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