Case study: Professor Grant Hughes

Royal Society Wolfson Fellow, 2018-2023
Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine
Exploiting the mosquito microbiome for novel mosquito control strategies

What attracted you to apply for the Wolfson Fellowship? What were the challenges that influenced you to seek support?

I was attracted to the scheme as it was specifically tailored for recruiting overseas talent to the UK and I could apply prior to my lab’s upcoming move from the US. The Wolfson Fellowship provided valuable support for the move and enabled me to bring research staff that were already experienced in the work we do to the UK.

Is your award allowing you to do something which you wouldn’t have been able to do without it?

Moving institutions, particular an overseas move, can be a chaotic and disruptive time for research. This award provided some stability and minimized the disruption as it assisted in bringing a talented postdoc that was already working in the lab in the US to the UK. This postdoc is now focusing on completing and publishing several important research findings, and transferring their knowledge to new group members, which in turn is driving the lab’s research program forward.

Can you describe your research in lay terms?

We investigate gut bacteria in mosquitoes. We are interested in how these gut bacteria infect mosquitoes, how they benefit the insects, and how they influence the capacity of mosquitoes to transmit viral pathogens like Zika and dengue viruses. These bacteria can also be used to deliver molecules to block the viral pathogens within the mosquito gut, essentially “vaccinating” the mosquito so it cannot transmit pathogens to humans. 

What inspired you to go into your field of research?

Over the last 5 to 10 years it has become evident that the microbes that plants and animals harbor (collectively call the microbiome) profoundly influence the host they reside within. Given that I studied a symbiont of mosquitoes for many years, it was a natural progression to move into the mosquito microbiome field. The microbiome field is moving rapidly, both for insects but particularly for higher organisms, and it’s intriguing to determine if findings in these other systems apply to mosquitoes and how, and if, these findings can be used for novel vector control approaches. We also have an impressive range of genetic tools and microbiological techniques at our disposal to investigate the interactions between the microbe, the mosquito, and the pathogens they transmit.

Can you tell us anything about the impact your research has had or might have in the future?

The overarching goal of the lab’s research is to develop a novel microbial-based approach to control mosquito-borne viruses. It is an exciting time for research in vector control with symbiont and genetic interventions currently being deployed in the field for arbovirus and malaria control. Our hope is we can develop new strategies that can complement these other approaches to provide synergist effects in terms of impact on public health.