Danielle Ryan, a graduate research officer at the Mosquito Research and Control Unit in Cayman Brac, has set her sights high.
The 24-year-old budding scientist has been employed with the MRCU on Cayman Brac since 1 December and holds as one of her greatest aspirations, a desire is to rid Cayman Brac, once again, of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the dengue fever vector which was eradicated in 1972 by Mr. Floyd Banks and Mr. Michael Nathan. She is also focused on controlling the general mosquito population.
“Cayman Brac is a small test area that is a fairly controllable environment, ideal for carrying out experiments,” she said.
As a graduate research officer, Ms Ryan’s duties are detail-oriented, hands-on and involve a variety of field and lab work. And she wouldn’t have it any other way. For instance, from Mondays to Wednesdays, Danielle, along with the other staff members, checks the ovitraps that are used to survey the Aedes aegypti. Then she helps check rain gauges and change the trap bags. This is a typical morning. Once back at the lab, she places the trap bags in the freezer.
“Freezing is the method we use to kill the mosquitoes to examine them,” Ms Ryan said. “In this way, there is no need for chemicals and the specimens are not damaged.”
After assisting in checking the gauges and changing the trap bags, she scans the ovitrap paddles for mosquito eggs. If eggs are found, the number will be recorded and the number of paddles they were found on. The eggs are placed in a jar with water and soil, making sure the water level is above the egg to enable hatching. If no eggs are found, she also has to record this information. Once the trap bags have been in the freezer for enough time, she takes them out and examines them for mosquitoes. If mosquitoes are found, she examines them and records the species for each trap.
Once this is completed, she continues doing more research. She and other members of the team also go around to residences to check for standing water that may contain mosquito larvae. They apply larvicide to standing water to eliminate any larvae.
“I am so blessed to have such a wonderful boss and colleagues to work with at MRCU here on the Brac. We are like a family, and our ability to collaborate to complete tasks successfully, communicate efficiently and our support network are priceless,” she said.
In addition to her ambitions for the job, Ms Ryan is also aiming to pursue a doctorate, which she wants to complete by age 30. Indeed, education has always been a priority for her. Daughter of Myron and Lana Ryan, she grew up in a household that stressed the importance of education. Her mother was a teacher and vice principal at West End Primary School before retiring and encouraged her to pursue higher education. “My family’s aspirations for me played a large part in my decision to attend university. I wanted to make them proud and to make my island proud. My family encouraged me to not be satisfied with simply applying for a job and working with a high school diploma. I wanted to be the first choice when applying for a job in the field of science, because I had the knowledge and expertise to perform my duties well and I realised that this could only be acquired with tertiary education.”
Ms Ryan holds a bachelor of science degree in biology. She started her university studies with the goal of becoming a doctor, but soon realised that the duties of an optometrist were too mundane.
“I wanted to have a career in a field that was dynamic, with exciting things to discover, to test and prove,” she said.
In her senior year, she took courses in invertebrate zoology, immunology and microbiology.
“I was intrigued by pathogens and vectors and how they worked to make humans sick. I was amazed at how something so small, like a virus, could affect the human population so greatly. I was also very interested in how vectors spread disease to humans and how the body fights to destroy pathogens brought by them,” she said.
“Scientists are now focusing on environmentally responsible, yet effective ways to deal with vectors. I am so glad that I have the opportunity to research earth-friendly products that the MRCU can use to effectively control the mosquito population,” Ms Ryan said.
Unlike many of her peers, Ms Ryan is enthusiastic about remaining in Cayman Brac and making her contribution to her island home and territory.
“This little rock, Cayman Brac, is my home and I feel that I would be betraying it to leave and contribute my expertise as a scientist elsewhere. I feel that it is wrong for young people to get a tertiary education and there is no benefit to their home country. I do not want to contribute to the brain drain that is occurring here on Cayman Brac,” she said.
Besides, Ms Ryan finds life on the Brac exactly to her liking.
“People care about each other here, all my friends and family are here and the pace of life is slow as molasses and just as sweet,” she said.
Deputy Premier and Minister for District Administration, Works, Lands and Agriculture Juliana O’Connor-Connolly said she was pleased to see Danielle Ryan’s rise through the ranks from intern to securing a permanent position with MRCU in Cayman Brac.
“Danielle is a bright and engaging young woman who works hard to achieve her goals and one of the most impressive things is that Ms Ryan doesn’t just to achieve these goals for herself, she is looking at a national level and she goes out of her way to make her environment better. This is commendable.”