Centenary faculty to participate in Sci-Port community forum

SHREVEPORT, LA — Three Centenary College faculty members will lend their expertise to "Should we engineer the mosquito?," a community forum hosted by Sci-Port Discovery Center on Saturday, September 17 at 6:00 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

Following a keynote address by Dr. Matthew Woolard of LSU Health Shreveport's Department of Microbiology, Dr. Cristina Caldari (Biology), Dr. Chris Ciocchetti (Philosophy), and Dr. Rebecca Murphy (Biology) will help forum participants discuss the complex ethical and ecological issues related to the development of technology that could be used to change or wipe out mosquitos.

"I grew up in Puerto Rico and still visit once a year, so I have seen how prevalent mosquito-borne diseases are in a small, densely populated island," says Caldari. "Because I travel there relatively often and because I teach an upper-level Immunology course, I try and keep up with the literature as much as possible - including how to prepare homemade mosquito repellant! Viruses are a fascinating thing and even though I am not a virologist, I do teach about them in several classes. What is even more fascinating is the evolutionary race between the immune system and viruses, and how as scientists we are able to look at this race at the molecular and cellular level."

Woolard's keynote address will focus on clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) and the CRISPR-associated protein 9 (Cas9). CRISPR/Cas9 has been used in bioengineering as a tool to alter DNA and could play a role in bioengineering mosquito populations.

Participants in the forum will have the opportunity to continue round-table discussions after the keynote address, with Centenary faculty and other local experts visiting all the tables to highlight specific issues related to engineering the mosquito. Ciocchetti will encourage participants to consider larger ethical questions of bioengineering while Murphy will offer information about further developments in the field of synthetic biology. Caldari will speak to the groups about immunology from a more personal standpoint, sharing information about dealing with mosquito-borne illnesses such as Dengue, Chikungunya, and Zika.

In a press release from Sci-Port, Director of Education Alan Brown said that the goal of the event is to provoke questions and discussions more than it is to provide answers.

"No other animal has more negatively impacted human history than the mosquito," said Brown. "Thanks to advancements in synthetic biology, scientists have the technology to eradicate them. Now the question is whether we should use it, and that decision shouldn't be made without asking the questions we hope to ask over the course of our discussions."

Other participants in the forum include Dan Saxon of Desoto Parish Animal Control and Mosquito Abatement; Dr. Beverley Burden, Associate Professor of Biology at LSUS; Robert Trudeau; and Larry Raymond, Louisiana Master Naturalist.

For more information, visit sciport.org/events or Sci-Port's Facebook event page. Seating is limited, so pre-registration is requested. Call 318.424.3466 to reserve a spot.