Claire Donald – Research Associate, Kohl Lab
Tell me about your background?
I did my undergraduate degree in Cellular Biology at the University of St Andrews. After that, I did a Masters at Edinburgh Napier University in Drug Design and Biomedical Science. I first started working on mosquito-transmitted diseases during a lab placement as part of that course which inspired me to do a PhD in Virology, which I got from the University of Glasgow in 2015. I’ve been working in the field ever since!
Why did you get into this field of research?
Arboviruses (viruses transmitted by biting arthropods) are unique in that they not only infect invertebrate vectors (like mosquitoes, ticks and midges) but also vertebrates like us. They are not limited to tropical regions as some people think but are found all over the world and have a wide range of hosts- including mammals, birds and reptiles. This makes them a hugely diverse and fascinating group of viruses to study. They are also a major burden in many areas around the world and present a significant medical, veterinary and economic problem, often as emerging or re-emerging pathogens. Therefore, the work that we do in trying to understand them is really important.
What are you working on?
I’ve worked on both stages of a mosquito-borne virus’ life cycle and have studied how these viruses infect both mosquitoes and mammals. During my PhD, I focused on the mosquito side and investigated the interactions between the virus and the mosquitoes’ immune system. I looked at the role that key mosquito proteins play in controlling the virus infection, using not only mosquito cells in culture but also in live mosquitoes, dissecting out important organs like the gut, ovaries and salivary glands. I now focus specifically on Zika virus and the interactions it has with the mammalian immune responses. I am working with collaborators in Brazil to understand why this virus, which wasn’t considered a threat, has spread so quickly in recent times, causing large-scale outbreaks in a number of countries and bringing with it terrifying new clinical symptoms.
Why is world mosquito day important?
World mosquito day happens annually on the 20th of Aug to commemorate Dr Ronald Ross’ discovery in 1897 that female mosquitoes transmit malaria. Unfortunately, malaria is still a major problem today but it is only one of many pathogens (viruses, bacteria and parasites) that mosquitoes spread. It is important to mark world mosquito to raise awareness of these diseases and the vital research that is going on to understand and prevent them.