Faculty Innovators


John Carlson

Malaria buster: Discovering what it is that makes mosquitoes so interested in people

Human sweat serves as a sort of bullseye for blood-seeking mosquitoes, but how do they detect human odors? John Carlson, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, developed an ingenious way of finding this out and in doing so, may have discovered a way to thwart malarial mosquitoes.

A decade ago, Carlson’s lab discovered the first insect odor receptors in fruit flies. They then used mutant flies that lacked an odor receptor in a particular nerve cell of the fly’s antenna and systematically replaced it with odor receptors from Anopheles gambiae, the mosquito species that is the chief culprit in the spread of malaria to hundreds of millions of people worldwide. The scientists then exposed these engineered flies to a battery of chemicals found in human sweat and found strong responses from 24 of the mosquito receptors.

Carlson and his team are now busy helping find ways to use this knowledge to confuse or repel mosquitoes, or perhaps to lure them into new traps. The goal is to identify inexpensive, environmentally-friendly compounds that block or activate key mosquito receptors in order to manipulate the mosquito’s behavior.

“We don’t yet know how well these compounds will work in the field, but with a disease that affects hundreds of millions of people, even a modest effect could translate into help for a great many people,” says Carlson.

Faculty Innovators

Amy Arnsten: Repairing the ‘Fabric of Thought’ with Drugs To De-Stress the Brain

Demetrios Braddock: Combating Cancer's Crafty Molecular Soldiers

John Carlson: Malaria Buster: Discovering What It Is That Makes Mosquitoes So Interested in People

Tommy Cheng: Mining Ancient Chinese Remedies for Cutting-Edge Therapies

Craig Crews: Tapping Nature’s ‘Garbage Disposals’ for Promising Cancer Treatments

Josephine Hoh: Tapping the Genetic Code To Predict Blindness and Other Diseases

William L. Jorgensen: Computer-Aided Drug Discovery

T.P. Ma: Building Ever-Greater Memory Capacity for Ever-Smaller Digital Devices

Rob McGinnis and Menachem Elimelech:Harnessing the Power of Osmosis To Create Clean Water Affordably

Laura Niklason: Building a Better Lung with Scaffolding and Cells

Andrew Phillips: Designing Synthetic ‘Natural Products’ for Use in Drugs

Ainissa Ramirez: Shaping Cooler Solders and Smarter Materials

Kurt Roberts: A New Boon for Patients: Scarless Surgery

Joseph Schlessinger: Halting Tumors’ Growth by Targeting Their ‘Achilles Heel’

Robert Schoelkopf and Michel Devoret: Creating a Quantum Computer — One Artificial Atom at a Time

David Spiegel: Engineering Molecules That Can Help Fight Disease

Thomas Steitz and Peter Moore: Eliminating the ‘Guesswork’ in Developing More Effective Antibiotics

Tian Xu: Unleashing the Power of Nature To Promote Genetic Research

Y. Richard Yang and Avi Silberschatz: Tuning Up the Internet To Make It Run Smoother and Faster