The Man Who Discovered Mosquito Vectors

Today we remember Sir Ronald Ross, an Indian-born British medical doctor who was born on May 13, 1857.  Dr. Ross received the 1902 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, making him both the first British Nobel laureate and the first winner not born in Europe.

Though Ross’s childhood passions were music and poetry, his family forced him into medical school.  This is fortunate for mankind, as Dr. Ross became obsessed with researching the disease malaria.  In 1897 he discovered the malaria parasite in the gastrointestinal tract of a mosquito, proving that the disease was transmitted by that insect.

Ever the poet, Ross wrote about his discovery:

“I know this little thing
A myriad men will save.
O Death, where is thy sting?
Thy victory, O Grave?”

Dr. Ross’ 1902 Nobel Prize is a topic of huge controversy involving another physician, Giovanni Battista Grassi, which we will save for another day.  But his discovery revolutionized the treatment of malaria, as well as our regard for mosquitoes.

Today there is an entire field of study devoted to vector-borne diseases.  (“Vectors” are living organisms that can transmit infectious diseases between humans or from animals to humans.)  Mosquitoes are the most infamous disease vector, with transmissions that include malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, West Nile fever and the Zika virus.

Zika has dominated the news lately.  In addition to causing infant microcephaly, the virus has now been linked to several adult brain disorders.  Cases have been reported in more than 40 countries, including several cases of sexual transmission and one confirmed death.  The UN’s health agency recently warned that Zika is likely to spread to Europe during the summer.

Agilent offers innovative solutions for human disease research.  Agilent Genomics has protocols and applications for both complex samples (such as amnio fluid) and common samples (such as blood and saliva).  Agilent technologies and solutions are also used to research vector-borne pathogens and mosquito repellants.


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