Vector Biology

Photo of annopheles gambiae mosquito being injected with hemolymph for malaria study

An Anopheles gambiae mosquito is shown being injected with hemolymph, the insect's primary circulatory fluid, as part of a malaria study.

Credit: NIAID

Vectors, including insects and ticks, are capable of transmitting infectious disease pathogens among humans or between animals and humans. Diseases spread by vectors such as mosquitoes are a serious public health problem, affecting nearly half of the world’s population, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). NIAID is committed to conducting and supporting research to better understand the biology of vectors, how they transmit diseases, and how they find and interact with human hosts, with the goal of developing new and improved ways to prevent the transmission of diseases. 

Why is the study of Vector Biology a priority for NIAID?

Vectors are responsible for the spread and transmission of some of the world's most devastating human diseases, including malaria, dengue fever, chikungunya, yellow fever, Zika, leishmaniasis, Chagas disease, and Lyme disease. Malaria alone causes more than 400,000 deaths annually, most of them children under 5 years of age. Other vector-borne diseases such as Chagas disease, leishmaniasis, and schistosomiasis affect hundreds of millions of people worldwide. The burden of these diseases is highest in tropical and subtropical areas, and they disproportionately affect the poorest populations, according to WHO. Studying the biology, behavior, ecology, and interactions of vectors with infectious disease pathogens and with their human hosts will help researchers better understand how disease transmission can be prevented.

How is NIAID addressing this critical topic?

NIAID conducts and supports a comprehensive vector biology research program to advance science and identify approaches that will help control or prevent the transmission of vector-borne pathogens to humans. This includes a variety of basic research projects that will contribute to a better understanding of key aspects of the biology of arthropod vectors. The program also supports translational and clinical research projects to identify and evaluate products and techniques designed to prevent the transmission of pathogens. These include the development of traps and repellents, the use of biologicals such as Wolbachia bacteria, and the evaluation of novel candidate vaccines based on mosquito saliva.

Basic Research

Basic research conducted and supported by NIAID examines the relationship of arthropod vectors with their environment, the pathogens they transmit, and the vertebrate hosts they feed on. By understanding the mechanisms involved in these interactions, researchers can identify potential targets to prevent vectors from blood feeding or from transmitting pathogens.

Translational and Clinical Research

Research moves from basic into translational and then clinical phases after scientists have identified and tested potential targets and approaches for vector control in the laboratory. These advanced stages of research are focused on the assessment of field testing new and improved products and techniques.

Content last reviewed on March 15, 2019