MRCU welcomes new scientists

Three new researchers have joined the Mosquito Research and Control Unit, boosting efforts to improve insect control.

‘These new posts represent a major part of MRCU’s restructuring, and the three will form our core team of scientists,’ said MRCU Director Bill Petrie.

‘This will allow us to concentrate on the technical aspects of mosquito control as well as to cover a variety of research topics including mosquito biology, DNA research and mosquito-borne disease.’

He said that the three — Fraser Allen, Angela Harris and Paul Clayson – would allow the unit to explore new areas of research.

‘Expanding our … capacity will allow us to cover different subjects and to conduct well-rounded research,’ Dr. Petrie said.

‘For example, [Mr Allen] and [Mr. Clayson] both have a strong physics background, invaluable in applications engineering, and [Ms. Harris’s] expertise in medical entomology compliments the research interests of our Assistant Director, Dr. Alan Wheeler.’

Dr. Wheeler expressed his satisfaction with the recruits, saying he looked forward to expanding the unit’s research and to sharing their knowledge with the scientific community.

Short biographies

Mr. Allen, a research manager, has returned to the MRCU in the wake of Hurricane Ivan. He originally worked with the unit between 1991 and 2002 before accepting an appointment as a contracts manager and consultant in Florida.

Working with Adapco, Inc., he managed state-wide contracts for integrated mosquito control, including emergency measures following hurricanes Charley, Frances and Gene.

‘Our objective is to better understand mosquitoes and their biological systems in order to improve our position in the ‘chess game’ against them,’ Mr. Allen said.

‘Developing and strengthening an MRCU research section will provide a unique challenge as we observe mosquitoes as nuisance and disease vectors becoming increasingly important in the region.’

Raised in the Bahamas, Mr. Allen said he was eager to make Cayman his home again.

Ms. Harris, senior research officer, specialises in medical entomology and is involved in mapping mosquito populations and densities, and reporting on egg-laying sites.

She routinely screens for appearances of dengue fever and West Nile Virus within local mosquito populations.

‘I’m excited to work in a country where many species can be found in the wild and where mosquito ecology and behaviour can be monitored and easily studied,’ she said.

Ms. Harris recently completed a five-year stay in England as a research assistant at several colleges and institutes after gaining her master of science degree in medical parasitology from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Ms. Harris said she looked forward to living in Cayman and hoped to explore the area’s culture and history.

‘I have been stunned by how welcoming and helpful people have been to me as a newcomer, and I’m enjoying the adventure of being here, especially the climate, the scenery and local cuisine,’ she said.

Dr. Clayson, senior research officer, recently emigrated from the UK, and said he anticipated the application of laboratory research to fieldwork.

‘I’m glad to have the chance to make a difference in people’s lives by controlling mosquitoes on the islands, rather than just producing research of interest only to the scientific community,’ he said.

In 2001, Dr. Clayson gained a Ph.D. from the UK’s Reading University after a master’s dissertation on insecticide resistance, a common Caribbean problem.

His MRCU responsibilities include updating and organizing data collection and coordinating the unit’s pesticide output.

‘Conducting pest-resistance research in Cayman means a chance to see results in the real world, not just in the ‘glass house’ of a laboratory,’ he said.

Outside of work Dr. Clayson is an enthusiastic outdoorsman, participating in snorkelling, boating, fishing, photography and climbing.

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