Recently, a group of Scientists from the NHM (Shelley Cook, Ralph Harbach, Lorna Culverwell, Erica McAlister, Entomology; and David Bass, Zoology) and a research student from the University of Oxford (Ed Glucksman) joined forces with Unité des Virus Emergents, Marseille, Université de la Méditerranée (Gregory Moureau and Laurence Bichaud) for a cross-disciplinary collecting trip.
Ralph apparently playing Crazy Golf, but he and Erica are in fact collecting adults and immatures…..
The aims of the trip, conceived by Shelley, were threefold; firstly, the Collection of voucher specimens of mosquito species present in the region for morphological and molecular identification work, and for the Collections here at the Museum. Voucher specimens simply means specimens that are collected and kept in collections for reference – in contrast to simply identifying in the field or lab and not keeping them. In total, approximately 100 mosquitoes will be processed for voucher work, which includes both morphological and molecular characterisation, and many more flies will be added as well. The molecular analysis will be for specific DNA sequences that are now widely used in molecular identification – often called DNA barcodes. These use mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase subunit I and II (COI and COII sequence).
Preparing to use the aspirator - a device for sucking up insects
The second aim was the collection of bulk samples of adult and immature mosquitoes onto dry ice for screening for flaviviruses; 2010 saw the first two cases of dengue fever (caused by a flavivirus) in patients in metropolitan France (near Nice) with no history of travel and whom were most likely to have been infected by mosquitoes from a local population. In total, approximately 2000 samples were plated for later screening. Previous similar studies conducted by our group have shown a prevalence of novel flaviviruses of up to 10%. Any virus positives will be isolated, characterised and sequenced before publication in scientific journals..
Shelley concentrating on numbering samples
And thirdly, together with David Bass from Zoology, the collection of a range of plant, water and insect specimens were put into liquid nitrogen followed by extraction of small RNA fractions. These will be tested via Illumina sequencing to test whether this method can detect signatures of viral infection and to compare viral biodiversity across a range of environmental samples - including in particular in association with mosquitoes and protists (single-celled organisms).
David wading to collect samples - always that temptation to go a bit deeper than the length of the waders...