University of FloridaSolutions for Your Life

Download PDF
Publication #ENY-744

The Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory1

Jorge R. Rey, C. Roxanne Connelly, and Chelsea T. Smartt2

The Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory (FMEL), part of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences of the University of Florida, is located about 3 miles south of Vero Beach, along the Indian River Lagoon, on Florida's subtropical east coast. The Laboratory, established in 1956, consists of a group of buildings (Figures 1, 2, 14) among 38 acres of an oak-palm forest, a scrub-oak pine forest, and extensive coastal marsh-mangal habitat along the lagoon.

Figure 1. 

The FMEL's North Laboratory building.


Credit: J. Rey
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

The University property, and a contiguous 360-acre preserve with a wide variety of mosquito habitats are available for protected experiments and observations. Access to off-campus habitats is facilitated by an extensive vehicle fleet. Laboratory facilities include a State-approved exotic containment facility for maintenance of non-indigenous mosquitoes, many walk-in bioclimatic rooms, a biological safety – level 3 laboratory, a large outdoor screened facility for conducting experiments under ambient conditions (the "Roundhouse", Figure 2), and a University-approved facility for housing birds and mammals.

Figure 2. 

Clockwise from top left: Administration building, Roundhouse, Maintenance building, South Lab.


Credit: J. Rey
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

The principal charges of the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory are:

  • To conduct research on the biology and control of biting insects and other arthropods which are important transmitters of disease or pest annoyances.

  • To train students and other personnel in the entomological aspects of public health, veterinary science, sanitation, mosquito control, drainage and irrigation design, wetlands management, and other areas requiring knowledge of medical entomology.

  • To extend research and training to international programs (Figure 3).

Figure 3. 

Collection of mosquito immatures from the axils of a large bromeliad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.


Credit: L. P. Lounibos
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Today, the FMEL is one of the world's premiere research laboratories devoted to the understanding and control of medically important and biting insects. Modern facilities and easy access to varied and unique natural habitats (Figure 4) offer an environment conducive to scientific investigation. FMEL faculty have produced over 1500 scientific publications in about 90 national and international journals.

Figure 4. 

View of the FMEL hammock.


Credit: J. Rey
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

The FMEL staff of about 30 includes 12 faculty in the University of Florida's Department of Entomology and Nematology, some of whom supervise post-doctoral and graduate students in the Department. The FMEL extension program gathers information, distributes important research findings, and conducts studies in cooperation with mosquito control agencies.

Research

The primary mission of the FMEL is to conduct research on medically important arthropods and the diseases they vector. Some of the research areas currently emphasized include:

  • Invasive mosquitoes

  • Biochemistry & molecular biology

  • Emerging infectious diseases

  • Biology of urban mosquitoes

  • Wetlands biology and ecology

  • Biology and ecology of container mosquitoes

  • Wastewater and stormwater mosquitoes

  • Vector heterogeneity and malaria in Brazil

  • Mosquito biology, ecology and genetics

  • Encephalitis biology and epidemiology

  • Biological control of mosquitoes

  • Vector-borne pathogens

  • Environmental impacts of mosquito control activities

  • Mosquito taxonomy

  • Mosquito behavior

  • Removal trapping and control

  • Population dynamics and epidemiological modelling

  • Biology of dengue and its vectors

  • Insecticide development and testing.

  • Non-pesticide mosquito control.

Figure 5. 

Some of the organisms being examined for biological control of mosquitoes include (clockwise from top left) copepods; mosquitofish; diatoms; and predaceous larvae of non-biting mosquitoes.


Credit: J. Rey, P. Hargraves, M. Cutwa.
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Examples of recent FMEL research activities include research on biological control of mosquitoes (Figure 5), studies of habitat segregation of mosquito arbovirus vectors, mosquito dynamics in constructed treatment wetlands, effects on fish and macroinvertebrates of mosquito control activities in coastal wetlands, and factors affecting mosquito production from stormwater drains and catch basins in Florida cities (Figure 6).

Current work on mosquito ecology include studies on the biology of invasive mosquitoes, the field ecology of container inhabiting mosquitoes, the effects of competition and predation on field and laboratory mosquito populations, the development of hybridization barriers in populations of different mosquito species, the occurrence of reproductive interference between mosquito species, and many others.

Figure 6. 

Examples of field research at FMEL (clockwise from top left) sampling urban mosquito production, studying estuarine fish movement through mosquito impoundment culverts, examining mosquito dynamics in constructed treatment wetlands, collecting mosquitoes from urban storm drains.


Credit: J. Rey
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Many research projects directly examine factors of importance to Florida public health and mosquito control, for example, studies on the morphology of the antennae of female Culex nigripalpus using scanning electron microscopy may help answer questions about why this species is a good vector of mosquito-borne viruses in Florida. Studies using mosquito traps that segregate mosquitoes collected during specific periods of the evening to determine the preferred flight time for female Culex nigripalpus may lead to improved techniques for control of this species (Figure 7).

Figure 7. 

Scanning electron microscopic studies of the antenna of Culex nigripalpus (left) and use of time-specific mosquito traps (right) directly address public health and mosquito control issues important to Florida.


Credit: D. Kunkel and J. Day.
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Research at the FMEL has also increased our understanding of the molecular processes involved in blood feeding and development of insecticide resistance in mosquitoes. In Culex nigripalpus female mosquitoes, some of the midgut genes become active following ingestion of a blood meal. These genes are most likely involved in blood digestion processes. Blood feeding also influences a large number of midgut genes to turn off. FMEL research also has revealed that the ability of a mosquito to transmit a virus, such as West Nile virus (WNV), could be influenced by midgut genes. Preliminary studies have shown that when Culex quinquefasciatus female mosquitoes feed on a WNV-infected blood meal, midgut genes are turned on and off in response to the presence of the virus alone. Ongoing studies will try to determine if specific midgut genes influence a mosquito's ability to spread WNV. FMEL scientists have also modified tobacco mosaic virus so that it produces a chemical called "trypsin-modulating oostatic factor", or TMOF. TMOF stops insects from producing a crucial digestive enzyme called trypsin, which causes the insects to starve to death, unable to draw nutrients from food.

Scientists at FMEL are also using mathematical and weather-driven models to learn more about the dynamics of transmission of mosquito-borne viruses such as WNV, eastern equine encephalitis, and St. Louis encephalitis. One project includes a mathematical model of the factors that control transmission of the WNV, which showed up in the United States in 1999 and in Florida in 2001. The project also includes studies on the effects of physiological factors, such as age, on a mosquito's ability to transmit disease. Another project uses extrapolated water table depths to predict mosquito vector abundance and risks of virus transmission. Related work is investigating how the age of mosquito populations affects virus transmission and whether some species transmit the pathogen better than others. One goal of this work is to produce models that can predict outbreaks and the spread of the disease.

Graduate Studies

Graduate students at the FMEL earn degrees at the M.S. and/or Ph.D. level in the University of Florida's Department of Entomology and Nematology. Several FMEL faculty hold appointments in other University of Florida departments enabling advisement of graduate students therein.

Typically FMEL students spend the first year taking courses at the Gainesville campus. After the first year, most students usually relocate to the FMEL in Vero Beach to take advantage of the unique laboratory and field opportunities offered on site. However, a growing number of students are taking advantage of distance-learning, facilitating research activities off-site.

Graduate work at the FMEL is planned in close collaboration with an FMEL faculty member who serves as the Chair of the student's graduate committee. A graduate committee may include other FMEL faculty, Gainesville-based faculty in the Department of Entomology and Nematology and/or faculty in other relevant departments.

Figure 8. 

Graduate students at the FMEL earn degrees at the M.S. and/or Ph.D. level at the University of Florida.


Credit:

M. Carrasquilla.


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Graduate students at the FMEL are eligible to receive graduate support in the form of stipends and/or tuition remission through University of Florida fellowships, Department of Entomology and Nematology assistantships, or from grants to faculty from federal and other granting agencies. These awards are made on a competitive basis to deserving students. Interested students are encouraged to directly contact prospective faculty at the FMEL to learn about opportunities, research, graduate applications and financial support.

For more information on graduate studies at UF/FMEL check the "Graduate Students" section of the FMEL web page (http://fmel.ifas.ufl.edu/).

Teaching/Training

In addition to training graduate students, FMEL faculty teach in a number of courses offered at the various campuses of the University of Florida. The FMEL also offers full credit distance education courses on advanced mosquito biology and related topics with full credit towards UF undergraduate and graduate degrees.

The FMEL offers a wide variety of workshops, seminars and short courses for mosquito control/public health professionals and for the general public. Past offerings include a three-week intensive field biology course for Latin American mosquito control professionals (in Spanish), several mosquito identification courses, various field and laboratory techniques courses, as well as a number of environment and natural resource short courses.

During the Spring each year, FMEL offers a 2-week short-course in “Advanced Mosquito Identification and Certification” where experienced mosquito biologists receive intense instruction and practice in identifying the adult and larval stages of all mosquitoes that occur in North America (Figure 10). Students who pass a written exam and laboratory practical receive certification from the University of Florida. Students who have earned certification are from various Florida and other state mosquito control agencies and departments of health, the U S Navy, industry, and the University of Florida graduate school. We have also trained many students from outside the US including several from South and Central America, Canada, Africa, New Zealand, the Caribbean, and Turkey.

Figure 9. 

Student activities during a mosquito identification course.


Credit: J. Newman
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

International Programs

Researchers at FMEL are often involved in international programs on mosquito biology and ecology and vector-borne diseases in South and Central America, the Caribbean, Asia and Africa. Some examples of collaborating institutions include the Universidad Central de Venezuela, Instituto Oswaldo Cruz in Brasil, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, and others.

Examples of current projects include investigations of invasive vector mosquitoes in Brazil (Figure 10) and of human ecology and urban dengue in Colombia (Figure11).

Figure 10. 

Brazilian collaborator sampling mosquitoes in bamboo.


Credit: L.P. Lounibos
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Figure 11. 

Local team prepares to survey in one of our study cities in Colombia.


Credit: H. Padmanabha
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Extension Program

The FMEL maintains an active extension and outreach program focused on the general public, mosquito control agencies, and agencies involved in public health, environmental management, and education. FMEL faculty are regularly involved in the area's K-12 schools, through a wide variety of activities including special programs, classroom participation, mentoring, coaching, and science fairs.

In addition, the FMEL often provides materials for hands-on classroom use by teachers. One example is a mosquito/copepod kit where teachers and students can watch the development of mosquitoes from egg to adult, and also experiment with biological control using copepods that prey on mosquito larvae (Figure 12).

Figure 12. 

Examples of hands-on and computer-based extension materials produced by FMEL.


Credit: J. Rey & R. Connelly
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

FMEL faculty also participate in community activities, serve as speakers in civic organizations and also maintain an active information program for the general public and a professional instruction program for mosquito control personnel and health workers (see below). FMEL faculty produce copious amounts of instructional materials aimed at professionals, students, and the general public in a wide variety of formats including web-based, electronic, and print (Figure 12). Some of these are described more fully in the following www sites maintained by FMEL:

The Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory: http://fmel.ifas.ufl.edu

The Encephalitis Information System:http://eis.ifas.ufl.edu

The Mosquito Information Page: http://mosquito.ifas.ufl.edu

Location and Contact Information

Please see the location and campus maps below.

Figure 13. 

Location of the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory.


Credit: Jim Newman
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Figure 14. 

Campus map of the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory.


Credit: J. Rey
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Contact:
University of Florida - IFAS
Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory
200 9th Street S.E.
Vero Beach, FL 32962
USA

Footnotes

1.

This document is ENY-744, one of a series of the Entomology and Nematology, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date September 2008. Revised February 2014. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Jorge Rey, professor, C. Roxanne Connelly, associate professor, Chelsea Smartt, assistant professor; Entomology and Nematology Department, Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory, University of Florida, Vero Beach, FL 32962


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.