- Project Description:
Mosquitoes and the diseases they transmit are a global crisis that often requires direct citizen action to overcome. This is particularly true for urban Aedes transmitted diseases like dengue, Zika and Chikungunya transmitted by Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus or Ross River virus transmitted by a number of local vectors. Many of these species are well adapted to human landscapes and their control by government organized (top-down) initiatives is unrealistic given the complexity of urban environments. Rural communities pose an even greater challenge to top-down strategies due to logistical constraints. Thus, effective surveillance and control of important disease vectors in rural landscapes may only be possible through community-based (bottom-up) strategies. The active collection of data by citizen scientists is an under-developed resource whose exploitation requires effective engagement and education. Our goal is to develop STEM-based (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) secondary school modules to educate and encourage direct student participation in rural mosquito control and exotic mosquito surveillance. The modules will incorporate the use of affordable, open-source molecular technologies (real-time PCR) and student-designed and constructed biodegradable mosquito traps incorporating immersive designs. The project will follow a “Hub-and-Spoke” engagement model with the schools serving as the education and engagement ‘hubs’ and the students and their households serving as the active ‘spokes’. The student scientists will collect source material (mosquito eggs) to monitor and model mosquito population size and use molecular methods to detect the potential presence of exotic mosquitoes such as Aedes albopictus and Ae. aegypti. The program will give local population control through the removal of mosquito eggs from the environment. Project modules will complement the STEM curriculum for years 9-12. Modules taught over consecutive years will maintain student and community participation.
- Activities and Methodology
The project will occur in two phases. Phase 1 (year 1) will involve the development and optimization of the STEM modules through QIMRB’s education center. Phase 2 (year 2) will see the modules tested in partner schools in rural Queensland with endemic Aedes aegypti populations. Phase 1 will involve an iterative process wherein the methodologies, i.e. DNA extraction, real-time PCR, trap designs and education/engagement materials, will be altered to match the age, knowledge and skill of each target group (grade 9-10; grade 11-12). This process will involve 8-10 iterations (groups of 25 students) through QIMRB education center. During this period, student and instructor (school personnel) perceptions, knowledge and attitudes toward the project will be acquired through surveys and group discussions to further improve the modules.
In Phase 2, the modules and materials will be trialed in two (2) partner schools in rural Queensland. At this stage, the role of primary instructor will be transferred to school staff with assistance provided by project personnel to assess module self-sufficiency. Student and instructor perceptions, knowledge and attitudes toward all aspects of the project will again be gathered to further improve the modules. Phase 2 will see the students collecting the data source material (mosquito eggs). Assessments of the quality and ability of students to perform this task will be a primary objective during this time. At project end, additional partner schools will be recruited and those interested will be provided all the necessary educational and engagement materials.
All in-class activities will follow standard and well-proven methodologies, particularly those relating to the use of real-time PCR to identify mosquito species, and emerging concepts in the use of creative design to increase engagement. All laboratory materials and solutions will be non-toxic and trap components will be biodegradable to emphasize sustainability and environmental stewardship.
- What are the expected outcomes of the project
- Development of innovative, multi-tiered STEM education modules focused on mosquito monitoring. The modules will introduce students to advanced molecular biology concepts as well as population modelling. Until now, such technology was too complex and expensive for individual schools. However, there now exist affordable, open-source real-time PCR (polymerase chain reaction) machines enabling the technology to be taught and used at primary and secondary levels. The content of the modules will evolve with the advance in grade, helping to ensure the sustainability of both schools module and citizen participation.
- Development of a low cost folding mosquito trap for lower cost and easier citizen scientist engagement. Seevinck will work with the Mosquito Control Laboratory to design and test a folding trap constructed of low cost and low environmental impact materials (biodegradeable) and suitable for classroom or home assembly. These will be manufactured and provided for the school students to collect mosquito eggs around their homes.
- Generation of mosquito population and distribution models from student data. Students will use their own trap data to predict local mosquito populations and their impact on them. Advanced modules on the environment could introduce students to multi-variate statistics and the importance of seasonality (e.g. temperature and rainfall) and habitat (e.g. vegetation) on abundance and distribution of mosquito species. Data will be made available to all participants through a QIMRB hosted website
- Development of a sustainable, active exotic mosquito surveillance campaign. The invasion of aggressive, disease-competent mosquitoes to new areas presents a tremendous risk to public health and outdoor enjoyment of Australians. Unfortunately, wide-scale surveillance for these incursions is not possible through limited local and state government resources. The use of networks of student citizen scientists provides an extra layer of vigilance through the identification of local mosquito species from batches of trapped eggs.