Most people try to avoid mosquitoes, but Amina Abdul, ’13, has an entire collection of them.

Abdul is spending her summer in a biology lab at the University of Richmond, where she researches the immune system of the yellow fever and dengue virus mosquito. She and biology professor Dr. Aparna Telang have developed a technique for the collection of hemocytes, the equivalent of white blood cells in mosquitoes. Their research has even garnered some publicity — the Journal of Visualized Experiments has published their protocol online along with a video of Abdul demonstrating their mosquito technique.  

“The goal of our research is to better understand the form and function of a mosquito to ultimately arrive at better control methods,” she said.

Because mosquitoes can carry many disease-causing pathogens, Abdul and other student researchers are studying the effects of nutritional stress on mosquito immunity.

Looking at the size and number of hemocytes, Abdul measures how malnutrition affects the mosquito’s immune system. Hemocytes are part of the immune system and will attack if there is something foreign in the body. The idea, she said, is poorly fed mosquitoes may be weaker and less able to pass along disease-causing pathogens.

Abdul-Qayum’s research is supported by her summer fellowships through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) and the School of Arts & Sciences Grainger Initiative. It’s an opportunity that she said might not be available at schools where undergraduates compete with graduate students for time in the labs.

Abdul, who plans to attend graduate school in the future, was also appreciative of the one-on-one attention from Telang.

“I don’t think, with any other lab, you could go in as a freshman and get something published immediately,” she said. “The way [Telang] treats her research students — it’s not just ‘come in and learn’ — she takes you seriously. Her goal is to have you published by the time you graduate.”

Although she appreciates her time in the lab, Abdul welcomes opportunities to work outside of the Gottwald Center for the Sciences through the Bonner Scholars Program. Bonner Scholars receive scholarships in exchange for civic engagement work including volunteering in the community 10 hours a week throughout their four years at Richmond. Abdul volunteers weekly in a local emergency room.

“It’s a lot of fun,” she said. “I can’t do too much without a medical degree, but a lot of my experience comes from talking to patients and people that are there. I love doing that. That’s what I want — to sit down and talk with patients that I serve.”