Interdisciplinary Project Addresses Green Infrastructure, Mosquito Control, Public Health

JULY 13, 2015 — The Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) is pleased to fund a new interdisciplinary research project at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that addresses a unique combination of green infrastructure and public health.

ALLANEntomology Assistant Professor Brian Allan’s project, titled “Engineering the Microbial and Stormwater Environment for Mosquito Control,” will offer solutions, technology, and modeling for stormwater management in hopes of controlling mosquito populations and resulting diseases such as malaria, dengue, filariasis, West Nile virus, chikungunya, yellow fever, and more.

“Mosquito-borne diseases continue to pose a major threat to human health worldwide despite substantial global eradication efforts — in part because many mosquito vectors breed in human-made aquatic habitats in urban areas worldwide,” Allan said. “The primary strategy for mosquito control is extensive application of synthetic pesticides targeting juveniles in aquatic habitats, but this is largely unsuccessful.

“A better solution may be to eliminate the aquatic breeding habitats for mosquitoes in urban areas altogether. ‘Green Infrastructure’ technologies act to both reduce the rate of flow from large rainfall events and to intercept and retain runoff and contaminants on site for water quality improvement.”

An unintended benefit of such systems, he said, is the apparent elimination of the aquatic habitats in which mosquito larvae develop. He and his team intend to study how additional mosquito control strategies can be combined with ‘Green Infrastructure’ for greater results.

“The manipulation of the aquatic microbiome, which forms the base of the food web for mosquitoes in stormwater habitats, can inhibit mosquito growth,” Allan said.

Allan has expertise in the ecology of infectious diseases. His research team leaders include Animal Biology Professor Carla Cáceres, an expert in evolutionary ecology; Entomology Assistant Professor Allison Hansen, who specializes in insect-microbe interactions; Illinois Natural History Survey Director of Medical Entomology Juma Muturi, an expert in vector biology; Pathobiology Clinical Associate Professor Marilyn O’Hara Ruiz, who specializes in spatial epidemiology; Civil and Environmental Engineering Research Assistant Professor Arthur Schmidt, who has expertise in surface-water hydraulics and hydrology; and Geography and Geographic Information Science Professor Shaowen Wang, an expert in cyberinfrastructure and geospatial information.

“Our team draws upon multiple areas of considerable historical strength at the University of Illinois: vector biology, environmental engineering, genomic biology, and spatial analysis,” Allan said. “The combination of these approaches may offer innovative and environmentally sustainable alternatives for mosquito-borne disease control and reduced dependency on insecticides.

“Our research project will integrate hydrological modeling and CyberGIS approaches into our field and laboratory studies of stormwater infrastructure and the aquatic microbiome to extend our findings to other regions.”

For more on Allan, visit

Approved by the University of Illinois Board of Trustees in December 2013, iSEE has allocated more than $2.1 million to fund seven interdisciplinary projects covering its five major research themes: climate solutions, energy transitions, sustainable infrastructure, water and land stewardship, and secure and sustainable agriculture. The Allan project was one of four projects funded in spring 2015.


— Tony Mancuso, iSEE Communications and Public Affairs Coordinator