Dr. Zhu focuses on elucidating the mechanism that controls mosquito reproduction and investigates how the mosquito immune system responds to malaria parasites.
Most female mosquitoes need to feed on vertebrate blood and use the nutrients for their own egg production. During blood feeding, mosquitoes transmit many devastating diseases, such as malaria, dengue fever, filariasis, and West Nile encephalitis. The causative pathogens have developed exquisite strategies to exploit mosquitoes to complete their own life cycles and, at the same time, to evade the mosquito immune system to ensure their own survival. We are exploring various strategies to control these emerging or resurging mosquito-borne diseases. An effective approach is to minimize the risk of infection by reducing mosquito populations. In the face of the growing pesticide resistance detected in field populations of mosquito vectors, new environmentally safe chemicals are needed to kill mosquitoes at various developmental stages. Understanding how mosquito endogenous growth regulators exert their function will facilitate discovery of chemicals that repress or block the normal growth and development of the mosquito. Another promising approach is to use genetic engineering to eliminate or decrease the vector competence of mosquitoes. Some mosquitoes are refractory to infections of pathogens in nature. Comparing gene expression of refractory and susceptible mosquitoes in response to pathogen infections will shed light on the molecular nature of mosquito-pathogen interactions and provide invaluable information on what protein factors in mosquitoes are suitable for genetic intervention to adversely affect the pathogens.