Tricking the mosquito’s “nose”  pg. 2

The object was not simply to discover new knowledge, but also to create “deliverable technologies”—health tools that are both effective and practical. The tools should be inexpensive to produce, easy to distribute and simple enough for people in developing countries to use.

This approach struck a strong cord with Zwiebel. “Ever since… graduate school, I have wanted an opportunity to make a difference,” he says. “I have nothing but love and admiration for basic science, but the idea of working toward a practical application is very satisfying.”

So Zwiebel began rounding up his “dream team” of insect olfactory researchers to take advantage of this opportunity.

First, there was John Carlson, Ph.D., of Yale, an ongoing collaborator who had developed a method for transplanting the mosquito olfactory system into the intensively studied fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster.

Next was Willem Takken, Ph.D., at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, who Zwiebel got to know while he was on a post-doctoral fellowship in Heidelberg.

Takken, who is a leading expert on mosquito behavior, had extensive experience and contacts in Africa. He was instrumental in recruiting Gerry Killeen, Ph.D., from the Ifakara Health Research and Development Centre in Tanzania and David Conway, Ph.D., from the Medical Research Council Laboratories in The Gambia.

Deadliest animal

“Every one of the people who are involved, both the principals and the supporting scientists, have made critical insights and contributions over the last two decades. So, for me, it is really an honor to act as the coordinator,” Zwiebel says.

The Seattle meeting was the beginning of what proved to be an extremely long and arduous process. At the end of 2003, the scientific board issued a request for letters of intent from research groups interested in participating, and received more than 1,500.

After reviewing these letters, the board invited 450 groups, including the Vanderbilt-led team, to submit proposals.

“This was the most extensive grant application I have ever been involved with,” Zwiebel says. It took him and his colleagues several hectic months filled with international teleconference calls and thousands of e-mails to prepare their proposal.

“We were all exhausted when we finally submitted our proposal in June 2004,” he recalls. “I felt completely drained but, at the same time, I felt that it was the best proposal that I had ever written and that we said exactly what we wanted to say.”

Six month later, Zwiebel and his colleagues learned that their effort had been successful: Theirs was one of only 40-odd proposals selected for negotiations for funding. The negotiations continued for several months before the initiative announced, in June 2005, that it had offered 43 grants totaling $436.6 million to support research into a broad range of innovative research projects.

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