Longform articles

Mosquito: The most dangerous animal in the world


Research by the Natural Resources Institute (NRI) is tackling mosquito-borne disease and it's "untold impact on human misery".

Pioneering research and development by the university's Natural Resources Institute (NRI) is helping to tackle deadly species of mosquitoes, which are responsible for spreading fatal diseases, including malaria, dengue fever and the Zika virus, now linked with microcephaly in babies.

"The mosquito is the most dangerous animal in the world, carrying diseases that kill over one million people a year," says Gabriella Gibson, Professor of Medical Entomology.

There are 3,500 known species of mosquito but most of those don't bother humans at all, living off the blood of other animals.

It is only the females, from just 6% of species, that draw blood from humans - to help them develop their eggs. Of these just half carry pathogens that cause human diseases. But the impact of this handful of species is devastating.

Male Anopheles gambiae mosquito.

"Half of the global population is at risk of a mosquito-borne disease," says Dr Frances Hawkes, Research Fellow and Behavioural Entomologist. "They have had an untold impact on human misery."

Principal Investigator Dr Richard Hopkins, Head of the Pest Behaviour Group, and a team of experts from NRI, are travelling to Brazil this month to initiate a three-year project in collaboration with the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (FIOCRUZ) in Rio de Janeiro. "We're looking forward to applying our joint expertise to tackle this urgent global public health issue."

Research in the Pest Behaviour Group makes use of cutting-edge laboratory technologies and intensive field work to understand the basic physiology, behaviour and ecology of pests - the insects and small mammals that damage human health, livestock, crops and stored products.

With a focus on both the developed and developing world, NRI researchers apply their understanding of pest behaviour to develop innovative technologies to control damaging insects.

Dr Hawkes sets mosquito traps in Malaysia.

Half of the global population is at risk of a mosquito-borne disease

Professor Gibson (left) and Dr Hawkes (right) with Dr Roch Dabiré in Burkina Faso

NRI is part of the Faculty of Engineering & Science. It carries out world-class research and development in agriculture, climate change, foods and markets, specialising in tropical and temperate regions. It draws upon its international research and development work to underpin its taught MSc programmes in agricultural and food sciences, as well as undergraduate programmes in biology and enviro-mental sciences.

NRI's world leading achievements have also been honoured with a prestigious Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education, which is to be awarded by Her Majesty the Queen at a special reception at Buckingham Palace later this month.

Main picture: Female Culex quinquefasciatus mosquito, courtesy of Dr Gareth Jones

Second image: Male malarial mosquito, Anopheles gambiae s.s., showing its frilly antennae, and the head with blue-green compound eyes, courtesy of Dr Gareth Jones

Our expert staff

Professor Gabriella Gibson

Professor of Medical Entomology

Gabriella's pioneering work focuses on the control of mosquitos that are damaging to human or animal health. Her research includes understanding mosquito night vision and their ability to fly in the dark, and their communication through the sounds produced by their wing-beats during swarming and mating.

Dr Richard Hopkins

Reader in Behavioural Entomology, Head of Pest Behaviour Research Group

Richard's research interests include mosquitoes' choice of habitat and where to lay their eggs. This work includes the identification of insect repellent compounds in native plants.

Dr Frances Hawkes

Research Fellow and Behavioural Entomologist

New insights into the way in which mosquitoes locate human hosts, and the development of a new mosquito trap are at the heart of Frances' work.

Queens Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education 2015THE Awards winner 2014 - International Collaboration of the Year