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Could Pokeweed Stop Mosquitoes from Carrying Dengue Virus?

a pokeweek plant

Researchers think common pokeweed may hold a key to preventing spread of a deadly virus.

Justin Anderson is working to keep you and your kids safe from virus-carrying mosquitoes.

The Radford University biology professor recently published in Frontiers in Physiology his findings from a two-year research project that determined coffee extracts can interfere with the replication of the La Crosse virus, which can cause encephalitis, or can simply kill the vexatious mosquitoes.

Now, thanks in part to a $30,000 Jeffress Research Grant, the professor is testing pokeweed to determine if it, too, can interfere with mosquitoes' ability to be infected with the viruses. If the mosquito is immune, it cannot catch the virus and pass it on to humans.

Anderson's latest research is looking at the virus that causes more than 50 million cases of the painful dengue fever each year around the world. Pokeweed plants make a protein that interferes with the replication of a number of viruses.

In his lab, Anderson and RU biology majors Nikki Holland and Madison Gardner are taking a threefold approach toward determining the potency of pokeweed.

The researchers will try to determine whether pokeweed antiviral protein (PAP) has anti-dengue virus activity, assess PAP’s mosquito larvicidal activity and then see if the insects can resist infection, Anderson said.

"Our pokeweed work, if successful, could be used to make wild mosquitoes resistant to viral infections. Pokeweed antiviral protein is attractive because it seems to inhibit any virus it is tested against."

In addition to taking part in important research, Anderson said, his students are learning numerous research techniques, including polymerase chain reaction, cloning, cell and mosquito culture, and virus handling.

The grant for the research comes from the Thomas F. Jeffress and Kate Miller Jeffress Memorial Trust, which supports scientific research in Virginia.

Jul 5, 2012
Chad Osborne
(540) 831-7761
caosborne@radford.edu