The Department of Entomology at Texas A&M University recently held a two-day workshop in cooperation with the University of California-Davis’ Department of Entomology and Nematology this past weekend to discuss vector-borne diseases in humans, plants, and animals.
The two-day event held at the Thomas G. Hildebrand, DVM ‘56 Equine Complex, focused on finding solutions to problems with vector-borne diseases such as Zika, citrus greening and Lyme Disease.
The event paired faculty with similar interests, such as genetics and genomics of vectors to those who deal with population structure and ecology, which are common themes across various vector- borne systems. Each pair of presenters were challenged to prepare short, tandem presentations and lead challenging discussions on new approaches to solving problems concerning vector-borne diseases.
Teams of researchers were assigned to one of three sessions where their science is focused: on Cells to Organisms, Organisms to Populations, and Communities to Ecosystems.
During each session, teams covered such topics ranging from zoogeography and invasion ecology of arthropod vectors of plant pathogens and human/animal pathogens, disease ecology, behavior of disease vectors and insecticide resistance and ecology of medically important vectors and agriculturally important vectors.
After each session, participants then were divided into smaller groups to discuss what they heard and to write down four to five points focused on what new interventions of vector-borne diseases could follow from the presentations, what gaps in knowledges or obstacles limit innovative solutions and how can they be eliminated, and how can available technologies be applied to new systems faster to improve responsiveness to vector borne diseases. The results of each group then were presented during a wrap-up session following the discussions.
Department Head Dr. David Ragsdale was pleased with the high level of participation and attendance by everyone and the quality of discussions and presentations during the workshop.
“Given the narrow focus of the workshop on vector borne diseases, I believe we had a very good attendance by the scientific community,” he said.
The workshop was created out of an idea that Ragsdale and Dr. Shirley Luckhart from University of California-Davis came up with after attending a similar workshop in Penn State University that focused on insecticide resistance across plant and human vector-borne diseases.
He said that the advantage of having a two-day-long workshop like the one held at A&M is that it allows for a more diverse audience, as well as more time for everyone to discuss broader topics and possible solutions.
“We had a couple of options, to hold this meeting at a professional conference, like the ESA annual meeting or the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. The downside of doing that is that you exclude people unintentionally because not everyone will attend an entomological conference,” he said. “Holding such a meeting on campus enables a more diverse audience but it does mean that speakers must travel to a remote site and this travel is added on top of their already busy travel schedule. So neither venue is ideal, but we chose to bring speakers to College Station.”
He also added that Dr. Robert Miller from the National Science Foundation and Dr. Barbara Sina from the National Institutes of Health attended and spoke to the funding opportunities available at their agencies that focus on vector borne diseases. They both spoke to audience held on Sunday. Their contributions was very welcome and it added a great deal to the conference.
“At a professional society meeting we don’t often have the chance to meet others with such a broad focus or have time in the program to discuss the possible solutions,” Ragsdale said. “Having Directors from NIH and NSF present gave them some added insight into the crux of the problems regarding vector borne diseases.”