When we hear about mosquitoes in the news, it's often in conjunction with West Nile Virus, Zika Virus, and other diseases. Scientists have been attempting to alter mosquito populations in a variety of ways to prevent the spread of diseases. At Carondelet, the students in Dr. Susan Domanico's AP Biology class collected insects from home and tested them for Wolbachia infection, a specific parasitic bacterium found in many insects. Interestingly, when infected male mosquitoes mate with uninfected females, fewer offspring are born. Scientists are hoping to use this observation to decrease the number of disease-carrying mosquitoes without the use of chemicals, and the AP Biology students were interested to see if the method could work here.
Our students received special testing equipment from the Bay Area Bioscience Education Community to purify insect DNA and amplify insect-specific genes that indicated Wolbachia infection. By doing so, students could identify insect populations that tested positive or negative for Wolbachia. The lab dovetailed nicely with their summer reading, I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong. "The summer reading helped me gain an understanding of how bacteria, which is stereotypically thought to be bad, can prove to be beneficial to the world too," said Lourdes Latasa '19.
Kathleen Harney '20 said, "collecting the DNA is a very long process which requires a lot of precise work to complete correctly without cross contaminating." Although the lab took a few days, the students have been preparing all year, studying essential elements of molecular biology. Lourdes added, "I find it extremely important for students to perform these types of labs because it gives them a sense of engagement to science. I realize how some students may not favor science that much because they have to learn everything by the book. However, when students perform these kinds of labs, they are able to connect what they have learned from the book to real life experiences."
The study of Wolbachia reminds us of the important work contemporary scientists perform to learn about the biology of other species and its impact on us. Our students are learning to explore the molecular world with an unexpected connection to the insects in their backyards