Bringing the tropics to Glasgow

Published on: Author: the CVR science blog editors

The words Glasgow, tropical and mosquito don’t go together often – you are far more likely to hear about the dreaded midge than hear about an infestation of an insect that prefers slightly warmer climes.  However, here at the CVR, we have recreated the tropics within our insectary (a secure, cosy and very humid home for insects).  It’s inhabited by the mosquitoes that carry some pretty nasty diseases.  So mosquitoes really do live in Glasgow!

Yesterday was World Mosquito Day, so we wanted to introduce you to some of our researchers who are dedicated to the study of these pesky little critters.  They work tirelessly to help us understand how these fascinating insects spread disease. Meet our experts…

Stephanie Rainey – Research Associate, Sinkins Lab


Tell me about your background?

I graduated with a BSc Hons in Genetics and I embarked on a PhD in the lab of Prof. Julian Dow, studying the genetics and physiology of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster’s kidneys. Seeking a change in focus I came to the CVR to work with Prof. Alain Kohl and moved into the field of arbovirology. Using my drosophila knowledge, I studied the bacteria Wolbachia, which naturally infects Drosophila, and how it is able to inhibit the infection of arboviruses.

Why did you get into this field of research?
Insects to me are the most fascinating creatures. Arthropods, in particular, undergo such divergent life stages and their transition from larvae-pupae-adults is one of nature’s real intrigues. They are also a huge burden on society, nobody likes a mosquito bite or the diseases they carry! Viruses have also always intrigued me – they can be a real enigma to study and have devastating effects on humans and animals. Therefore, being able to combine my love of insects with viruses is the perfect combination!
What are you working on?

Currently, I work with Prof. Steve Sinkins, studying the ways that Wolbachia prevents the spread of viruses in mosquitoes. I have access to many cell lines and an insectary that contains a vast array of mosquito colonies. Currently, Wolbachia is being used as a control measure to tackle outbreaks of Dengue and Zika across the globe. Wolbachia infected mosquitoes are being released by CVR researchers in Malaysia with keen public backing. Wolbachia is a natural bacterium that doesn’t spread to humans and spreads quickly through mosquito populations due to a nifty trick called cytoplasmic incompatibility. Therefore, it is safe to humans, doesn’t destroy mosquito populations and most importantly stops the spread of devastating diseases. But we still don’t know how Wolbachia blocks viruses from replicating and this is really important if we want to continue to use the bacterium. So that’s what I work on, using a lot of microscopy, molecular biology, and some very sophisticated virology, I hope to work out how exactly Wolbachia ticks.

Why is world mosquito day important?

Mosquitoes are the deadliest animal in the world, causing over 1 million deaths a year from the spread of malaria and viruses. Globalisation, travel and global warming all mean that mosquito-borne diseases are on the rise and their spread across the globe is rapidly increasing. Raising awareness of the work that we do and engaging with the public is key to controlling future outbreaks.  This is why world mosquito day is so important – it gives us a platform to do this!