A Mini Cooper will soon be traveling Florida streets and highways as part of the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions HealthStreet community engagement program, collecting bugs and bug “splats” on the bumper for a study of mosquito-borne viruses.
[Photo: Dr. Mattia Prosperi (left) and Dr. Linda Cottler]
The Florida study, led by Dr. Mattia Prosperi, an associate professor in the department of epidemiology at the College of Public Health and Health Professions and the College of Medicine who was hired under Floroda’s preeminence initiative, won the Illumina Go Mini Scientific Challenge. The company asked researchers to submit proposals for how they would use the company’s new compact DNA sequencer, the MiniSeq, to accelerate their research. Dr. Prosperi’s creative proposal, which combines emerging pathogens research with a community engagement program, was peer-reviewed and selected from more than 1,100 applications worldwide. The prize includes a next-generation sequencing MiniSeq machine, materials for three data runs and a new Mini Cooper car, all valued at about $100,000. The competition results were announced on April 18 at the American Association for Cancer Research meeting.
Dr. Prosperi said the challenge when developing his proposal was coming up with an idea that would make the best use of both the MiniSeq and the car in a project that was scientifically sound, unique and that focused on social justice. Almost from the outset he knew he wanted to incorporate the car into HealthStreet’s efforts. Founded by Dr. Linda B. Cottler, chair of the department of epidemiology and PHHP’s associate dean for research, HealthStreet works to reduce disparities in health care and research by linking community members to social and medical services and connecting people to opportunities to participate in health research.
For the other piece of the project, Dr. Prosperi was interested in monitoring mosquito-borne diseases. Florida’s climate and popularity as a tourist destination make the state vulnerable to potential outbreaks of disease caused by viruses such as chikungunya, dengue and Zika. He knew he’d found another role for the Mini Cooper when he learned that Dr. Mark Hostetler, a Florida professor in the department of wildlife ecology and conservation, had successfully collected insect samples for analysis from vehicle windshields and bumpers, a study method Dr. Hostetler calls “splatology.” Dr. Prosperi’s team will use the MiniSeq to analyze insect samples collected during the Mini Cooper’s travels and identify pathogens carried by the insects.
“It is vital for us to understand if chikungunya, dengue and Zika viruses are entering Florida or if they have already entered, but aren’t established yet,” Dr. Prosperi said. “Our study aims to understand the diversity of pathogens in Florida at the genetic and vector level which can be used to implement infection control at a public health level.”