Media coverage of insect-vectored diseases such as West Nile virus and Zika virus have Texas on alert lately. Texas A&M AgriLife strives to meet the needs of Texans by providing evidence-based information about these disease, and also providing solutions to these diseases. Solutions include novel disease treatment, vaccines development, and management practices.
The TickApp, developed through the Department of Entomology, greatly reduces the cost of diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease. Each case of Lyme disease costs $100,00 to diagnose and treat.
Stephenville center researchers developed and published a rapid genotyping method for identifying strains of bacterium that cause Pierce’s disease in grapevines and other perennial plants. This method will help entomologists better understand the impacts of insect vectors on disease epidemiology.
Genetic testing by Uvalde scientists shows that a deer cannot transmit tick fever to cattle. This discovery saves the Texas deer hunting industry $2 billion.
Current Projects & Selected Accomplishments
Lyme Disease – there’s an app for that
Researchers in the Department of Entomology developed a mobile phone app – The TickApp – to identify ticks as vectors of Lyme disease. This greatly reduces the cost of diagnosis and treatment. Each case of Lyme disease costs $100,00 to diagnose and treat.
Drug discovery for malaria
James Sacchettini’s research in drug discovery aims to understand how enzymes interact with their substrates. This information can be used to combat diseases such as malaria. Sacchettini’s approach is to attack the problem at its core – by identifying the protein or enzyme – that is critical to the life cycle of the organism that causes the disease. He uses this same method of research for tuberculosis.
West Nile Virus in Urban Settings
Gabriel Hamer studies how West Nile virus reemerges in urban settings in a predictable cycle – through a mosquito-bird transmission. As the virus amplifies in bird and mosquitoes, it spills over to humans. Hamer studies ecological processes that spark transmission, and landscape characteristics, including field studies of birds and mosquitoes. This research has potential to improve both human public health and wildlife conservation.
Tick and host interaction
Gabriel Hamer, in collaboration with Sarah Hamer of Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, study tick-host interaction. Part of this research is to identify vertebrate hosts that feed ticks and allow populations to thrive. The research team is developing a novel approach to study North American tick-host interactions based on stable isotopes in host blood that are retained in the tick. This approach will compliment DNA based approaches for the tick blood meal ID (RT-PCR) to determine pathogen maintenance that can be targeted in disease control strategies. Ultimately this work can reduce human and animal disease risk.
Chagas Kissing Bug Disease
Gabriel Hamer is working on several projects about Chagas Disease – the kissing bug. His projects are aimed at understanding the agent of Chagas disease – Trypanosoma cruzi. Hamer will characterize kissing bug activity patterns, species distribution, host association, and parasite infection. The Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and the Department of Entomology have a collaborative Citizen Science Program to learn about kissing bug and Chagas disease risk in Texas. Through the Citizen Science Program anyone can contribute to a real-time map of the state to show interactions with and photos of the kissing bug.