Penn State research improves human health through innovations in entomology and animal science

Penn State research improves human health through innovations in entomology and animal science 

A variety of innovations at the Pennsylvania Agricultural Experiment Station are looking at improving human health through pioneering methods targeting prominent infectious diseases. Three projects look at advances in controlling tuberculosis, dengue virus and Lyme disease.

Tuberculosis kills more people around the world than any other infectious disease; infected cattle can be reservoirs for transmission to humans through consumption of unpasteurized dairy products and cohabitation. A “test and slaughter” approach is more common than vaccination in many countries but is not always feasible. This project sought to make cattle tuberculosis vaccination programs more accessible in low- and middle-income countries through creation of a novel skin test that can distinguish between vaccinated and naturally infected animals. The new test is economical, easy to manufacture and standardize, and enables a more efficient and targeted vaccination strategy in low- and middle-income countries and regions where the disease is endemic.

More than half of the world’s population lives alongside Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that transmits dengue, Zika and other deadly viruses. Dengue virus alone infects nearly 400 million people worldwide each year. The naturally occurring bacteria Wolbachia has demonstrated an ability to control the spread of disease, but researchers are concerned that dengue virus could evolve an ability to evade or even form a resistance to the beneficial bacteria. This work investigated the stability of Wolbachia as a virus blocker within A. aegypti, suggesting that the blocking benefit could be sustained over time.

Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the United States. In 2018 Pennsylvania had the highest incidence of infections in the country. The disease is caused by a bacterium transmitted to humans from blacklegged ticks that obtained the pathogen from a host animal, such as the white-footed mouse. Scaling up current tick control strategies is impractical and may adversely affect the environment. Penn State entomologists evaluated the effectiveness of tick control tubes to reduce tick burdens on white-footed mice; these cardboard tubes containing acaricide-treated cotton were placed in wild rodent habitats so the mice would use the cotton as nesting material. Scientists found that the ticks were eliminated from hosts captured in the treatment plots after tick tube deployment.

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