In this episode of The Highlights, we're joined by Zhilei Zhao, a former graduate student in the McBride Lab of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute. We discuss his experiences working in the lab during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as his study of the delicate neuroscience of mosquitoes and its potential impact on the fight against malaria and other insect-borne illnesses.
This episode of The Highlights was produced under the 145th Managing Board of The Daily Princetonian in partnership with Princeton Insights. Zhilei Zhao is a post-doc in the Goldberg Lab at Cornell University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are about 3500 mosquito species worldwide, but only a handful of them are responsible for the transmission of mosquito-borne illnesses such as malaria and dengue fever. Whereas most mosquito species are generalists that lack a preference for a particular animal, the specialist mosquito species that prefer biting humans over other animals are also the species that most widely spread human diseases. Understanding the environmental factors that are driving these mosquitoes to prefer humans could help uncover strategies for mitigating the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses. It is therefore vital for public health to ask why and how certain mosquitoes have evolved to target humans.
Review written by Thiago T. Varella (PSY GS) and Gabriel T. Vercelli (PHY ‘20)
Ever since the spread of SARS-Cov-2 imposed quarantines of global reach, people around the world have voiced their frustrations about social isolation. Indeed, Aristotle said back in 4th century BC, “man is by nature a social animal,” highlighting that our unease towards isolation is at least as ancient as the Classical era. However, as seemingly unnatural as social isolation might be for humans, it plays a crucial role in the current attempts to stave off the pandemic. Interestingly, isolation might serve a similar purpose in the natural world! Individuals that do not engage in collective behaviors have been observed in many social species. This behavioral divergence is usually thought of as an error, a failure to perfectly coordinate all individuals in a population; but this isolation could, at least theoretically be premeditated or shaped by natural selection (Barta, 2016). This leads to the question: are these isolated individuals, also called “loners,” a mere consequence of failed synchronization of the group, or could they be a mechanism nature developed to mitigate the risks of collective action?