Donate old specimens… for science!

The use of historical specimens in genetic analyses is an underutilized resource that can offer insight into previously unanswerable questions. Comparing historical and modern day specimens gives us a “direct temporal comparison of patterns of genetic variation.” 

Museum collections are massively important because of the great many purposes they serve. Specimens are educational to visitors, are the basis of research projects, preserve species long extinct, and are even a frontier to explore in search of new species.

Museum specimens have also served a new purpose within the last few decades. They have been used in genetic analyses, and represent a timepoint in the genetic history of modern day species. For example, museum specimens have recently been used to learn about bumblebee species declines, and to trace the genetic history of the adonis butterfly, a rare species that lost extensive tracts of its habitat during the 20th century.

Our lab wants to also use historical specimens in this novel way to learn more about two disease vectoring mosquitoes in the United States.

aedesaegyptisketchYou are probably familiar with the Asian tiger mosquito. This mosquito invaded the U.S. in the 1980s and outcompeted the resident yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti), replacing it in many areas. The yellow fever mosquito still persists however, in urban areas across the South. Asian tiger mosquitoes changed the distribution of yellow fever mosquitoes and also influenced their behavior. Did the Asian tiger mosquito also change the trajectory of yellow fever mosquito evolution?

To answer this question, we’ve collected yellow fever mosquitoes from 15 localities from coast to coast. We will use these current collections to understand current yellow fever mosquito gene flow in the U.S. To measure the change in yellow fever genetics since the invasion, we need to compare current and historical genetic data. This would not only be biologically interesting, but could also give us insight into whether the yellow fever mosquito can learn to coexist with the Asian tiger mosquito.

To reach this end, our lab is seeking yellow fever mosquito specimens, either from museums, natural history specimen repositories, or personal collections. An ideal specimen: 

•     Must be able to be destructively analyzedmosquito larvae vial

•    Has collection info, including location

•     Predates the Asian tiger mosquito invasion (20+ y.o.)

•     Is preserved in 100% ethanol, either adults or larvae

•     If a larva, is not a “fixed” specimen (i.e. boiled)

•     Is from the southern United States

But! We are not limiting ourselves to these constraints. If you know of any historical yellow fever mosquito specimens from anywhere in the world, please contact us through this simple webform, even if the specimens cannot be used in genetic analyses. We can use collection data from mosquito specimens for historical and current niche modeling.


2018-11-07T21:44:25+00:00June 20th, 2015|News|

About the Author:

I am an assistant professor of Entomology at North Carolina State University, with an abiding interest in arthropod vectors of disease and their ecology.