Veteran Biologist Named Director

Kelsey Fry Citrus

Veteran Biologist Named Director of UF/IFAS Entomology Lab

Veteran Biologist Named DirectorBy Brad Buck

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Just as the Zika virus is causing concern worldwide, a University of Florida insect specialist with 36 years of experience at the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory has been named the lab’s new director.

Professor Jorge Rey started at FMEL, part of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, in 1979, the year the Vero Beach, Florida, lab came under UF’s umbrella. He moved up the faculty ranks from research scientist to professor in 1994 and was named interim director last year. Now, he’s the lab director, said Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources.

“With his many years of top-quality research and his time as interim director of the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory, Dr. Rey has earned the respect of the lab’s faculty members. Thus, he’s an ideal fit as director,” Payne said. “Dr. Rey is well-positioned to lead the FMEL scientists to new heights in research and Extension as we continue to look for solutions to mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue, chikungunya and Zika.”

As director, Rey is in charge of a facility with 11 UF/IFAS faculty members and 50 other employees.

One of the top issues on the agenda of faculty at FMEL is the Zika outbreak that started last year in Brazil. Zika is most likely transmitted by Aedes aegypti – the yellow fever mosquito – and Aedes albopictus – the Asian tiger mosquito. Some people are bringing the virus back to the U.S. and giving it to others. As of March 23, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 273 travel-associated cases of Zika in the U.S., but none was locally transmitted.

Several FMEL scientists are working on potential solutions to the Zika outbreak.

“We continue to work on all aspects of the biology of the more likely vector species, Aedes aegypti, and Aedes albopictus,” Rey said. “These species are also involved in transmission of other important arboviruses such as dengue and chikungunya, so we have been conducting research on them, from populations to individual genes, for some time now. Currently we’re developing grant proposals to work on Zika, including a collaborative grant involving several faculty.”

That project will include modeling, vector competence and insecticide resistance.

As Zika-specific data become available, associate professor Cynthia Lord will use transmission models to investigate potential consequences of Zika introductions into Florida and how this may differ from chikungunya or dengue introductions, Rey said. Associate professor Chelsea Smartt is returning to Brazil to look at virus detection, and assistant professor Barry Alto is working on how well Florida mosquitoes transmit Zika to humans.

As for his own research, Rey will continue to work on the field ecology of container mosquitoes such as yellow fever and Asian tiger, and on the biological control of mosquitoes, in other words, when bugs eat other bugs. He’ll also collaborate with other faculty as opportunities arise.

Rey completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Miami, then moved on to earn his master’s and doctorate at Florida State University.