Expert Studies Traits That Impact the Ability of Mosquitoes to Transmit the Zika Virus

Few insects evoke the aversion that mosquitoes do. But beyond their nuisance factor, mosquitoes are carriers – or vectors – of some of the world’s most serious illnesses including the most recent Zika virus outbreak, which is being associated with the birth defect microcephaly, a smaller-than-normal head size in infants that affects brain development.

The Zika virus is spread to people through bites from the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is a primary focus of research for Katie S. Costanzo, PhD.

An expert on the ecology and biology of several species of mosquitoes that transmit disease, Costanzo is an evolutionary ecologist at Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y. She studies the natural history of these blood-sucking insects to better understand their implications on human health. More specifically, she focuses on the environmental factors (climatic variables, infections, competition and predators) that impact mosquitoes’ life history and behavioral traits that affect their ability to transmit disease.

“For over a decade, I have worked on how climate factors, infections, competition and predators influence the biology and behavior of these species,” says Costanzo. “Since Aedes aegypti is a primary vector (carrier) of Zika and the Aedes albopictus mosquito has been indicated as a potential vector, I am familiar with the biology of these carriers and how it impacts the epidemiology of viruses they transmit, such as Zika.”

Costanzo raises Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes from larvae to adulthood in her climate-controlled lab at Canisius College. She runs studies investigating how environmental variations may impact traits in mosquitoes that are important to disease transmission. “If we can get a better understanding of how the environment alters these traits in these species, we can provide insight into the effects of environmental gradients and fluctuations on the transmission of several diseases these mosquitoes vector, including Zika.”

Costanzo holds a BS in biological sciences, with a concentration in zoology, from SUNY Oswego; an MS in biological sciences, with a concentration in conservation biology from Illinois State University, and a PhD in biological science with a concentration in ecology, evolution, and behavior from SUNY Buffalo.

Source: Canisius College