Working with scientist educators at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Woods Hole Institute, Vanderbilt University, Princeton University and high school teachers here in Mississippi, we at the University of Mississippi Medical Center have formed partnerships that allow us to bring exciting new hands-on experiences to student science teams.
Wolbachia rodeos are part of the worldwide effort to stop West Nile virus, dengue, chikungunya, Zika and malaria.
The Wolbachia rodeo is one of the many projects designed to engage Mississippi high school students. At the rodeo, students extract DNA from insects (mosquitos, fire ants, fleas, etc.) collected in their area. They run tests to detect a sequence specific for the Wolbachia bacteria and then separate the DNA fragments into specific sizes. Further testing and comparisons help the students determine if they have an insect positive for Wolbachia. If they have a positive sample, the DNA is sent to the Wolbachia lab at Woods Hole Institute, where it is sequenced by an international group that tracks Wolbachia in insects worldwide.
Kathy McKone, a rural biomedical initiative lead teacher and HHMI/Princeton workshop leader, organized the first Wolbacia rodeo in 2011, and since then there are been rodeos each year at different locations across the state involving students from public and private schools of all sizes.
Wolbachia is a bacteria that grows in the reproductive cells of many different types of mosquitos, including some that carry the West Nile, Dengue, Chikungunya and Zika viruses. Infected female mosquitos pass the bacteria on through their eggs. When this happens, the infected females produce far fewer male mosquitos in the following generations. Since it grows inside its hosts cells, Wolbachia bacteria is even able to control its host's cell machinery.
Students play a major role in helping identifying insects positive for Wolbachia. Thanks to the contributions of these young scientists, we can decrease wild, uninfected mosquito populations by infecting them with Wolbachia, driving them to an all-female population and suppressing their replication. We can engineer the Wolbachia to have genes that are toxic to the females and cause them to die at an early age before they can reproduce.
For more information, contact Dr. Donna Sullivan.