Hamer is studying the process of insect-borne disease transmission through strapping tiny radio transmitters to the backs of bugs.
Department of Entomology, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Strapping tiny radio transmitters to the backs of bugs might sound like a questionable hobby, but for Associate Professor Gabriel Hamer, this innovative approach to studying the process of insect-borne disease transmission is proving effective in tracking the movements of elusive triatomine bugs, or “kissing bugs,” which carry a disease-causing parasite.
Trypanosoma cruzi, causes Chagas disease, a tropical infection endemic throughout much of Central and South America. Although most of the more than 300,000 Americans diagnosed with Chagas disease acquired the infection in a country where it is endemic, it is possible to acquire the disease locally, mostly during outdoor activities. Chagas can cause mild symptoms to severe complications in humans and animals.
In tracking the tagged bugs, researchers can note how far they travel and where their daytime hiding places occur, which is critical to know for efficient vector control. “The emergence and re-emergence of vector-borne diseases in the U.S. is a constant reminder that we need new tools to help manage and mitigate disease,” said Hamer, whose studies span not only kissing bugs, but also mosquitoes, ticks and biting midges, all of which are common blood-feeding arthropods in Texas.