Research Programs

The Center for Vectorborne Diseases has four major programs.

Arbovirus Research Program

Chris Barker, doctoral student in entomology, examines mosquito larvae. (Photo by Bill Reisen) Mission: The mission of the Arbovirus Research Program is to enhance our understanding of the epidemiology and ecology of mosquitoborne viruses and develop new tools and strategies for their surveillance and control.

Research within California currently led by Drs. AC Brault and WK Reisen focuses on the endemic encephalitides, western equine encephalomyelitis and St. Louis encephalitis, and their interactions with the introduced virus, West Nile. To study virus natural history in California, we have established study areas at multiple habitats within Riverside, Los Angeles, Kern and Sacramento counties and collaborate closely with local agencies of the Mosquito and Vector Control Association of California as well as the Vector-Borne Disease Section and the Viral and Rickettsial Diseases Laboratory of the California Department of Public Health.


A major focus is the examination of mechanisms that allow the persistence and effective amplification of encephalitis viruses in nature and developing tools that forecast the risk of domestic animal and human disease through integration with the Environmental Assessment and Information Technology Program. Projects also evaluate the efficacy of standard and novel adult mosquito control strategies to interrupt virus transmission. Research on West Nile virus is also conducted in the laboratory of Dr. TW Scott. The emphasis of these studies is on mosquito-vertebrate host and mosquito-virus interactions.


International research programs led by Dr. TW Scott focus on the ecology, epidemiology and control of dengue. Genetic strategies for dengue prevention are investigated in Mexico. Longitudinal cohort studies at well established field sites in Peru and Thailand examine fundamental concepts in dengue epidemiology and mosquito ecology, with the ultimate goal of improving tools and strategies for mosquito control and disease prevention. Of particularly interest are the impacts of heterogeneities in patterns of human infection (i.e., spatial, temporal, age, sex, etc.) on the force of virus transmission and how that kind of information can be captured and applied in operationally amenable ways (i.e., surveillance, vector control, vaccine delivery, etc.).


Surveillance activities and reference diagnostics funded through the Mosquito and Vector Control Association and the California Department of Public Health are coordinated at the BSL-3 laboratory by Drs. Reisen and Brault and supervised by Y Fang and M Dannen. Current diagnostics test mosquito pools and dead bird tissues for the California Mosquitoborne Encephalitis Virus Surveillance Program, avian serology for the Wildlife Health Center, avian and samples for Tulsa University.


Support: Research is supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, University of California Mosquito Research Program, and the Coachella Valley, Greater Los Angeles County, Kern, and Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control Districts.


Selected Publications:

Environmental Assessment and Information Technology Program

Virus ParticleMission: The mission of the Environmental Assessment and Information Technology Program (EAIT) is to develop modern methods of management of vectorborne disease research and surveillance data, to develop predictive models based on these data, and to facilitate sharing of research and surveillance data among California agencies cooperating in the prevention and control of vectorborne diseases in California. Included in this mission is the development of public and collaborative websites providing interactive information on vectorborne diseases in California.


Support: Research and development activities relating to EAIT are supported by grants to Dr. William Reisen and Dr. Chris Barker from the National Institutes of Health, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the University of California Mosquito Research Program, and the Coachella Valley, Greater Los Angeles County, Kern, and Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control Districts.


Personnel: Personnel are stationed on Old Davis Road south of the main UCD campus. EAIT is under the direction of Dr. Bruce Eldridge. Bborie Park serves as Programmer/Network administrator. He is the author of the California Vectorborne Surveillance Gateway. Dr. Chris Barker is an Assistant Research Epidemiologist who is developing models to predict mosquito abundance and mosquitoborne viral activity in California based on climatic, edaphic, and land-use factors. Dr. William Reisen coordinates activities of the program with those of the Arbovirus Research Program that he directs.


Collaboration: There is extensive collaboration with Drs. Daniel Cayan and Michael Dettinger and Mary Tyree of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California, San Diego. These scientists are relating temporal and spatial changes in mosquito abundance and virus activity to long and short term climatic variation. Remotely sensed data are included in collaboration with Forrest Melton and Dr. Brad Lobitz of NASA Ames Research Center. Mathematical models of West Nile virus are being developed in collaboration with Dr. David Hartley and Dr. Tianchan Niu of Georgetown University and Dr. Arnaud Le Menach of the Health Protection Agency, London.


Key accomplishments:


Selected Publications:

Tickborne Disease Research Program

Deer Tick (Ixodes dammini) Ticks rank with mosquitoes as the most important arthropod vectors of disease to humans and animals worldwide. In the western US, important tickborne diseases include Lyme disease and granulocytic anaplasmosis (caused by Anaplasma phagocytophilum) of humans, anaplasmosis (caused by A. marginale) and epizootic bovine abortion of cattle, ehrlichiosis of dogs, and anaplasmosis of horses. Internationally, ticks vector heartwater and babesiosis in cattle, tickborne rickettsiosis and tickborne encephalitis in humans, and other devastating problems that result in death, suffering and huge economic losses. Ticks may induce tick paralysis, directly cause blood-loss anemia, develop multi-drug resistance to the chemicals used to kill and control them, and be responsible for enormous eradication and control programs.


There are multiple projects at UC Davis in tickborne disease, depending on the interests and skills of the lead investigators or graduate students. Most projects focus on ecology and epidemiology of tickborne disease. Most ticks feed over the course of their lives on two or more different host species, so there are opportunities for interesting and complex ecologies. Studying such ecological problems requires expertise in field biology, theory, mammalogy, veterinary medicine, tick biology, bacteriology, and other disciplines. We work through local and international collaborations to acquire the needed expertise, including with Drs. Wuchun Cao and Jing He at the Beijing Institute for Microbiology and Epidemiology in the People's Republic of China, Dr. Bob Lane in the Division of Insect Biology at UC Berkeley, Dr. Rick Brown in the Department of Wildlife at Humboldt State University, Dr. Patrick Foley in the Department of Biological Sciences at California State University Sacramento, Dr. Steve Dumler at Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Joon Seuk Chae at Chonbuk National University in South Korea, and others.


Current ongoing projects include forest change and the emergence of disease transmitted by Ixodes ricinus group hard ticks in northern California and northeastern China (Foley lead investigator), spread and maintenance of EBA in cattle California and soft ticks (Teglas), modeling the enzootic maintenance of granulocytic anaplasmosis in California wildlife (J. Foley and P. Foley), understanding high anaplasmosis and Lyme-risk regions of far northern California through wildlife and tick studies (Brown and Foley), comparative habitat analysis for hard-tick borne disease in the western US (Nieto), and developing an active surveillance program for exotic ticks of cattle in California (Foley).

Vector Genetics Laboratory

Researcher Claudio Meneses (left), and Melody Malpass, a doctoral candidate in the UC Davis Department of Entomology, and the first student to sign up for the Designated Emphasis Program, examine sand flies in the Vector Genetics Lab. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey) The overall research focus of the lab is the population and molecular genetics of insect vectors of human disease. We have developed a program that pursues knowledge that may be applied to the control of vectorborne diseases but at the same time addresses critical issues in basic evolutionary genetics. An additional goal is the application of cutting edge molecular biological methods to problems at the level of populations. Research efforts involve both field and laboratory based research. Over the past several years we have conducted extensive fieldwork in Mali, Cameroon, Brazil, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The Laboratory of Vector Genetics is directed by UC Davis medical entomologist Gregory Lanzaro, a professor in the Department of Pathology, MIcrobiology and Immunology (PMI) of the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis.


Visit the Vector Genetics Laboratory website.