FREDERICK, Md. - Students at Monocacy Montessori School are not just learning about the Zika problem, but they are becoming part of the solution. The Frederick charter school is taking part in the Invasive Mosquito Project, a nationwide science experiment that tracks mosquito species across the country.
Fourth, fifth and sixth grade students are collecting mosquito eggs and will send them to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
As Congress continues to squabble over funding to battle Zika, hundreds of schools are participating in the USDA research project. There is currently no database that specifies where mosquitos that can spread Zika and other diseases are located in the United States.
“It really allows us to estimate risk,” said Lee Cohnstaedt, the USDA entomologist who started the Invasive Mosquito Project. “Knowing the distribution of mosquitos out there allows you to understand the risk to humans and their pets.”
Students use plastic cups lined with paper towels and filled with water to collect mosquito eggs, leaving the cups outside the school.
“When we take these inside a couple days from now, there should be eggs on the paper towel,” explained sixth grade student Samantha Freeman. “Then we will send them to the USDA, and they can see what kind of eggs are here.”
Students have already collected some eggs, and their teacher, Craig Boss, said the specimens look similar to that of the Aedes aegypti, known to carry Zika overseas.
“Yes, they could potentially be among us, but it's not yet confirmed,” Boss said.
Zika is known to cause severe birth defects. So far, there is still no evidence of Zika-infected mosquitos in the U.S. The nearly 700 Americans currently infected with the virus, including more than 200 pregnant women, have gotten Zika from traveling out of the country or through sexual transmission. However, experts predict local mosquitos could start spreading the Zika virus sometime this summer.
Data collected by the Invasive Mosquito Project participants should be available in the next few months, and could be extremely useful, especially next mosquito season. The plan is to keep the project going for the next 20 years to track mosquito movement over time.
“It’s a very small part of a bigger lesson which is, we as students, have an opportunity to participate in the greater science community,” said Boss. “And that this is how science works. It's very rare for one scientist to make a discovery in isolation.”
“It’s pretty exciting,” said sixth grader Katie King. “I like being a scientist, it's fun.”
For more information on the project, go to http://www.citizenscience.us/imp/