Dr. Qiang Xu | Assistant Professor of Biology

john xu

Imagine walking outside in the summertime and not hearing that unmistakable buzz or feeling that nasty zap of a mosquito.

It could happen, and if it does, everyone in Abilene can thank ACU assistant professor of biology Dr. Qiang Xu (pronounced "John Shoe") and his students.

Xu, a native of Hangzhou, China, is so fascinated with mosquitoes and how to rid the world of the disease-carrying pests that he focused on that for his doctoral dissertation at Auburn University. "A little bit weird" is how he described it.

Investigating insecticide resistance

Xu started his research six years ago and continued it once he started teaching at ACU in August 2007. Specifically, his dissertation research focused on investigating molecular mechanisms of insecticide resistance in insects.

The practical application is the development of new pesticides to keep pace with the incredible speed at which insects develop a resistance. "It's kind of amazing" how fast that happens, Xu said.

But he isn't backing off in the face of a formidable enemy. Xu is on a mission because of the worldwide implications of defeating resilient insects like mosquitoes that pose such health problems.

Partnering with city of Abilene

"Mosquito-borne diseases are such a big issue worldwide," he said.

And in Abilene. Xu and his students teamed with the city to make Abilene kind of a lab for Xu's research. He and his students place mosquito traps in strategic locations around town and test various types of pesticides on the captured prey.

The partnership proved to be a boon for the city. In April 2008 Xu and Aaron Vannoy, who at the time was in the city's Environmental Health Office, started brainstorming. The city did not have the resources for its own local lab and had to wait for test results from a commercial lab.

ACU's biology lab and students came to rescue, helping trap the mosquitoes and testing various kinds of pesticides on them, saving the city time and money.

Valuable experience for students

The field and lab is proving to be invaluable to students. Lewis Hun, a biology pre-med major from Cambodia, is working with Xu. Lewis said the opportunity will improve his resume and his chances for getting in to medical school.

Not a lot of students get a chance like that," he said.

The process teaches students scientific research techniques and how to identify various species. Vannoy said in Taylor County alone, 28 different species of mosquitoes can be found.

The students' work revealed what Vannoy and Xu feared. "The research showed that a lot of mosquitoes had become resistant to what we were using," Vannoy said.

As a result, the city began rotating pesticides so that the mosquitoes wouldn't have time to develop an immunity. Getting assistance from ACU has proven to be invaluable.

"It was a great benefit to us," Vannoy said. "We're going to do it again this summer." 

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