College/Institute: EPI, and Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Department: Entomology and Nematology
Curriculum vitae: PDF
Research interests: Neuroscience and toxicology in insects and mammals
Hobby: Fly fishing
Dr. Jeff Bloomquist joined EPI in December 2009 from Virginia Tech, where he has been a researcher and professor in the entomology department. He studies comparative neurotoxicology of insects and mammals. Dr. Bloomquist’s recent research has centered upon developing chemical control methods to target vector mosquitoes.
“We’ve been working on molecular-level experiments to target a particular kind of an enzyme that exists in the nervous system of mammals and insects,” Dr. Bloomquist said. Specifically, his group is engineering a special type of molecular inhibitor that will bind to the enzyme acetylcholinesterase (AChE), preventing it from playing its normal role in neurotransmission within the central nervous system.
Use of the particular chemical compound, an anticholinesterase insecticide, will selectively target the AChE enzyme and kill mosquitoes that may be carriers of malaria parasites, or the pathogens that cause yellow fever, dengue fever, equine encephalitis or other arboviruses. The compound he is currently working on specifically targets the mosquito Anopheles gambiae.
Dr. Bloomquist will bring five graduate students with him to UF, and he will continue this line of research with the EPI and IFAS’s department of entomology and nematology. Dr. Bloomquist led a group of five colleagues in a Grand Challenge in Global Health project — a program initiated by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and funded through the Foundation of the National Institute of Health –- in identifying the species specific inhibitors of AChE. Their research disproved 50 years of dogma that such specific enzyme inhibitors did not exist, he said. This line of research is now being further investigated under a five-year, $3.6 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The compound they identified has been used for agricultural applications in the past. His team discovered it while re-screening existing chemicals. “The compound that we have has really good selectivity, but it doesn’t beat the resistance of one particular kind,” Dr. Bloomquist said. “Now we’re interested in fundamentally changing its structure so it will have new properties in order to circumvent different kinds of insecticide resistance. We’re trying to retain its selectivity, but modify it so that mosquitoes can’t develop resistant to it.”
If they reach their goal, the chemical could become an insecticide used to impregnate bednet materials –- one of the most effective malaria control methods –- or be used to spray the interior walls of homes. In either application the insecticide would be safe to the touch for humans but would selectively kill mosquitoes by diffusion, attacking their central nervous systems.
Dr. Bloomquist’s future research directions include using X-ray crystallography to create a 3-D image of how the engineered inhibitor would attach to the targeted enzyme in order to visualize how it binds, and collaborating with commercial entities to test the new insecticide. He is also pursuing research into characterizing insecticide-resistant bed bugs.
Phone: (352) 273-9417