Today’s post is by Kate Bassett of Memorial University. If you’d like more information about her work, she encourages you to contact her.
I’m a graduate student at Memorial University (MUN, St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador), nearing the end of my masters…hopefully :). My research project is focused on a wildlife issue. Snowshoe hare, Newfoundland’s only Lagomorph, suffer from infection by California serogroup viruses (snowshoe hare virus and Jamestown Canyon virus). Helped by the province’s Chief Veterinarian Officer Dr. Hugh Whitney, I sampled the blood and tested for infection in wild hares and laboratory rabbits used as sentinels. This work was based in part in the laboratory led by microbiologist Dr. Andrew Lang at MUN, as well as working with the team at the National Microbiology Lab headed by Dr. Michael Drebot in Winnipeg. But, my project also included studying mosquitoes that are thought to transmit these viruses. That part of my project was based in the social insect lab at MUN headed by Dr. Tom Chapman.
I spent two summers catching mosquitoes. Consequently, I can’t miss them. I seem to have permanently altered my hearing and vision such that a mosquito in flight always grabs my attention. Last May while putting in a load of laundry, a specimen alighted on the washer. I dropped everything and ran upstairs for my aspirator, and made it back to collect this girl to identify at work. I froze her and didn’t get around to id’ing until later in the summer, and I was shocked to see that it may be Culex pipiens. This mosquito gains attention on the East Coast of North America because it can transmit West Nile Virus, and when I made this determination the worst West Nile viral outbreak in N.A. was underway and centered in Texas. I was uncertain of my morphological identification, so I added a leg or two of this specimen to my DNA barcoding work, and I waited for the outcome. When the sequence confirmed by identification, I put out a press release, which had me immediately doing live interviews on TV and Radio. I didn’t have a lot of time to think about it, I just went from interview to interview. It was a good experience; I do recommend it. I should add that we don’t have confirmation of West Nile Virus in Newfoundland, but we don’t know what lies ahead. Drs. Lang (email@example.com), Chapman (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Whitney (email@example.com) are looking for students to pick up where I am leaving off.