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Blood lust and the mosquito

Today is World Mosquito Day, marking the 1897 discovery by the British doctor, researcher and military officer Sir Ronald Ross that the female Anopheles mosquito spreads malaria. Here our senior press officer Claire Hastings looks at what makes this ‘little fly’ one of the most dangerous organisms that has ever lived.

A drawing of a mosquito with a blood-filled stomach (Wellcome Library, London)

A bellyful of blood (Image credit: Wellcome Library, London)

No one likes mosquitoes. They bite. They’re difficult to swat. To make matters worse, they inevitably appear on the rare pleasant days when we’re trying to enjoy the Great British Summer Time. Luckily, mild to moderate irritation is the worst outcome we can expect from a mosquito bite in the UK. But in the tropics a single mosquito bite can result in anything from an itchy ankle or mild fever to organ failure and death.

Tools of the trade

Despite their blood-sucking reputation, mosquitoes primarily feed on nectar from plants. Only the female mosquito needs additional protein in her diet to allow her eggs to develop; and the blood of animals is her favourite source.

Without this blood lust, female mosquitoes wouldn’t need to bite. Over the years she has evolved a few tricks that make her rather good at drinking our blood. Stealth is key ― if it hurt then we’d know about it, and the mosquito wouldn’t have time to find the perfect place to drink. Read more

Faith and hope: leading malaria research in Africa

Faith Osier

Faith Osier (Image copyright: Duncan Willetts Photography)

It was announced yesterday that Dr Faith Osier, a Kenya-based recipient of an MRC/DFID African Research Leader award and a Wellcome Trust Intermediate Fellowship in Public Health and Tropical Medicine, has won the 2014 Royal Society Pfizer Prize. The prize recognises African scientists making an innovative contribution to biological sciences. We asked her to reflect on what this international recognition means.

Any milestone in your career ― like winning this prize, or the fellowship I received last year from the MRC and the Department for International Development ― makes you stand back and take stock.

For me it’s a cause for celebration and appreciation. It makes me appreciate the community that transformed a little girl growing up in Kenya into an international award-winning scientist. From my parents and grandparents, who had the foresight to send all their girls, as well as boys, to school; to all my teachers, educators and mentors; and the wider community that shaped me ― here’s a toast to you! Read more

Fishing with the same rod

ResearchfishLast month it was announced that from September 2014 all seven research councils will use the Researchfish tool to collect information from their researchers. As the questions Researchfish will ask researchers are revealed, MRC Evaluation Officer Ellen Charman explains what the move means for MRC-funded researchers.

In a couple of months, the remaining research councils will be joining the MRC and STFC in using Researchfish to collect information on the outputs and impact of research.

So what? I hear you ask… Well, practically, there is little change for MRC researchers. The system remains open to enter data at any time and this year’s data submission period will go ahead as planned, opening on 16 October and closing on 13 November.

To take into account the addition of five extra research disciplines, there will be some minor changes to the question set.The majority of these changes are to the guidance and help text; however there are a few additional questions where we’ll ask for more detail, for example, the type of further funding and the purpose of an engagement activity.

There is also a new opportunity for you to tell us about your creative side, which Professor Peter Openshaw at Imperial College London might have found helpful last year when letting us know about his 2012 stage performance  — ‘Our germs, our guns: an uneasy peace’ — at the Albert Hall Theatre in Brussels. Read more