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Todd Holmes, professor of physiology and biophysics at the University of California, Irvine, has been awarded a competitive five-year $2.1 million Outstanding Investigator Award/Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) R35 grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, the first MIRA grant awarded to a UCI investigator.
UCI biophysicist Todd C. Holmes’ research work builds on his team’s recent discovery of two additional ways that insects detect light. Courtesy of Steve Zylius/UCI Strategic Communications.
“Holmes received this prestigious award based on his long-term track record of discovery and continuous funding for his research,” said Michael Cahalan, Distinguished Professor and chair of the UCI School of Medicine’s Department of Physiology and Biophysics. “The MIRA grant acknowledges Holmes’ major contributions in his field.”
Holmes will use the funding to examine how insect phototransduction can be used to design better light-based insect control strategies.
“Light is the primary regulator of circadian rhythms and evokes a wide range of time-of-day specific behaviors,” Holmes said. “By gaining an understanding of how insects respond to short-wavelength light, we can develop new, environmentally friendly alternatives to controlling harmful bugs such as mosquitoes, reducing the need for toxic pesticides.”
Current insect control devices use UV light to attract insects to an electric grid or trap. In contrast to toxic insecticides, which cause considerable health and environmental harm, light-based insect control is very appealing because of its safety and very low environmental impact.
“The design of current insect control lights is based on outdated assumptions about how insects detect light,” Holmes said. “Recently, we discovered two additional short-wavelength light phototransduction neuronal mechanisms in insects. Through this grant, we will leverage our discoveries with a goal to design new parameters for light-based insect control devices, improving their effectiveness and efficiency in the field.”
So far, the discovery science has been conducted in Drosophila fruit flies, the most useful insect model organism for laboratory molecular genetics. Holmes credits the development of CRISPR gene editing as the technology that will enable him to conduct rigorous molecular genetic science on mosquitoes.
In the past 10 to 15 years, cases of vector-borne diseases, including West Nile virus, Zika virus, Chikungunya virus, and dengue fever, have grown explosively in the Western Hemisphere and the U.S., causing more than 700,000 deaths annually and accounting for more than 17 percent of all infectious diseases worldwide.
The National Institute of General Medical Sciences is one of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, supporting research for disease diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.READ MORE