Tick and tick-borne pathogen diagnostics & ecology

Our lab conducts statewide active tick and tick-borne pathogen surveillance through a contract with the Illinois Department of Public Health. Our results are reported publicly on-line at the IDPH website. We collect, receive, identify, confirm, test, and archive ticks (and DNA) from Illinois. We also train public health partners in active tick surveillance and identifications. We test ticks for a wide range of tick-borne human pathogens, sequence positive samples to study pathogen strain diversity, and explore population genetics to better understand tick introductions and movement in Illinois.  Our goal is to develop a better understanding of the risk of exposure to tick-borne diseases in Illinois. We also work with research partners at the University of Illinois and nationally on tick-borne disease projects. We have a wide range of technical capacity and expertise – if you have a tick project in mind (e.g., identifying and testing ticks collected off animals), please contact Dr. Holly Tuten to discuss options.

Three specimens of the Gulf Coast tick (Amblyomma maculatum) and an American dog tick ( Dermacentor variabilis). Photo credit: H. Tuten; contact for permission to use.

Aedes albopictus monitoring and surveillance

We are currently participating in a state-wide surveillance effort to confirm the presence, and estimate the abundance of, this invasive mosquito throughout Illinois. In addition to population genetics analyses, we are also screening trapped adult mosquitoes for the presence of mosquito-borne arboviruses and are determining whether these populations remain susceptible to commonly used pyrethroid and organophosphate insecticides. If you are a public health or environmental management representative interested in participating in this project, please contact Dr. Chris Stone.

Read a recent news article on this project.

Molecular mechanisms of insecticide resistance in mosquitoes

We are currently assessing mosquito populations throughout Illinois for insecticide resistance and elucidating the genetic mechanisms behind it. We also can assist your lab in implementing CDC bottle bioassays for insecticide resistance or perform them for you. If you are a public health or environmental management representative interested in participating in this project, please contact Dr. Chris Stone.

Mosquito foraging behavior and integrated control

Tire- and container-breeding mosquitoes such as Aedes albopictus  and Aedes aegypti are notoriously difficult to control with conventional vector control methods. Likewise, insecticide resistance is increasingly threatening to diminish the effectiveness of indoor residual sprays and insecticide-treated bed nets for malaria control. There is thus a strong and recognized need for novel vector control tools that can be implemented in an integrated manner. These could take the form of novel traps or bait stations that target something other than host-seeking females (the point of focus for most existing technologies), or environmental management strategies that affect vector populations or traits in a way which diminishes vectorial capacity. In order to develop and optimize such novel interventions, a crucial element in need of much more research is our understanding of basic vector behavior.  One such area of interest relates to mosquito-plant interactions and nectar-feeding. Improving on our knowledge in these areas will be critical for the development and fine-tuning of toxic sugar bait stations or floral odor-baited traps. If you are a public health or environmental management representative interested in vector control, please contact Dr. Chris Stone.

Effects of the resource landscape on vector communities and arbovirus (e.g., West Nile) transmission

Another area of interest is understanding the effects of species diversity and richness of vertebrate blood-hosts, plant species, and vector species on vector-borne disease transmission. Because host preferences among vectors remain poorly understood, the implications of how changes in host diversity (e.g., due to range shifts resulting from climate change) affect vector biting patterns remain unclear. Further, we have relatively little insight into how vector community composition and richness is regulated or affected by environmental and landscape components. We use arboviruses, like West Nile, as model systems to explore landscape, environmental, and biodiversity-related factors to disease risk. We are also interested in understanding how changes in plant communities and vegetation affects mosquito populations and whether active management of plants has a place in an integrated control framework.

Additionally, the laboratory also directly assists mosquito abatement and public health organizations in Illinois by confirming the presence of West Nile virus and other arboviruses in mosquito pools. If you are a public health or environmental management representative interested in arbovirus testing, please contact Dr. Chris Stone.

Environment-parasite-vector interactions and climate change

To gain a more mechanistic understanding of how resources in the landscape and climate change can affect vector-borne pathogen transmission, we also perform empirical studies in the laboratory on mosquito behavior and ecology, physiology, and immunology. We are particularly interested in the interactions between larval and adult nutrition, mosquito energetic reserves, immune responses and microbiome composition, and the traits that determine vectorial capacity (survival, vector competence, gonotrophic cycle length and extrinsic incubation periods, biting preferences). We are currently exploring such topics using the Ae. aegypti and Ae. albopictus and dengue virus system. We are beginning projects on the effects of climate change on tick populations and transmission risk of associated disease agents.