One Health: Where Entomology and a Host of Scientific Fields Intersect
By Lídia Gual Gonzalez, Ph.D.
Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series contributed by the ESA Student Affairs Committee. See other posts by and for entomology students here at Entomology Today.
I never thought I would end up being so fascinated and interested in entomology. Quite frankly, I probably didn’t know what the word entomology meant back when I started my undergraduate degree. I come from Spain; there, the education system is set up differently. We don’t get to choose much, so we miss a lot of opportunities to widen our scope beyond our major. This is by no means a criticism of the Spanish education system, but it is a story about a non-entomologist discovering her passion for the field of entomology.
When I was finishing high school and getting ready to start college, I did not know what was to come. I loved biology, but I was fascinated by the human body and diseases, so I wanted to go to medical school. Unfortunately (or not), it was so competitive that I ended up getting accepted into my second option: biomedical sciences. Oh, I loved every bit of it! But, unlike in the U.S., Spanish colleges select the coursework for each bachelor’s degree, and even the elective coursework is within a selected group of classes aimed specifically at your major. Therefore, after I graduated, I kept thinking, what do I want to do?
I enjoyed biomedical sciences, but I also felt I wanted something else. My curiosity kept growing, and I kept telling myself, “You need to expand your scope.” That’s when I found a master’s degree program that captured my attention: “zoonoses and One Health.” I am not going to lie, I had to look up what this was about; the name called out to me, but what is One Health? You’ve probably heard that saying, “When you know, you know.” Well, I knew. One Health was my future.
I believe One Health is the most complete way to approach science and health. For those that have never heard of it, One Health is a concept within public health that brings together animal, environmental, and human health under a multidisciplinary framework. This holistic approach to health allows us to understand all the components that will have an impact on people’s wellness—and, interestingly, entomologists are highly involved.
So, how did I become involved in entomology? Well among the different disciplines related to zoonosis covered during my master’s degree work, I became fascinated with vector-borne diseases. I was attracted to the complexity and almost perfection with which pathogens take advantage of arthropods’ feeding behaviors to spread and reach their final destination: the animal or human hosts. Pathogens have evolved to ensure their survival by finding their hosts and managing to evade their immune system long enough to ensure their reproduction. It is just so incredible to think that, millions of years ago, all kinds of pathogens (viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi) started to find their way to evade hosts’ immunity. And, if we add into that selection mechanism that the arthropod vector—mosquitoes and ticks most notably, but also many others—will provide adequate conditions for the pathogen to not only survive but often complete essential stages of its life cycle, it just becomes something to never stop thinking about. Each pathogen evolved by choosing its preferred way to spread.
We have the pathogen, the host, and the arthropod vector—now let’s add the environmental factor. This is where the One Health approach becomes key to understanding diseases. Various climatic and ecological characteristics favor certain arthropods and provide an ideal place for them to thrive and spread pathogens more efficiently. Conversely, some climatic and ecological characteristics are not suitable for these same arthropod vectors, and therefore the diseases they spread will not be present naturally. Isn’t it crazy to think about? There are so many factors that could play against those pathogens, and yet somehow these living organisms evolved to depend on all of them. So, of course, One Health is needed to understand these diseases. But entomologists studying arthropod-borne diseases aren’t the only ones that use One Health. Entomologists are needed in One Health because the environment, humans, and animals constantly depend on and live surrounded by arthropods.
At first, entomology seemed something distant to me, as my focus was on vertebrate hosts of diseases, not the vectors. But, the more I learned about arthropods involved in the diseases I study—triatomines, ticks, mosquitoes, and more—the more I felt I had to be involved with entomology!
Now I am fully invested. I like to learn about other arthropods that are not medically important. I stop and look for little fellas on the ground. I love to check those bugs. I send pictures to my entomology friends: “What’s this? Can I touch this? Will this bite me? “I read about arthropods to learn about the moth that stopped at the window sill or to help me identify that little beetle I found in my yard. As a once non-entomologist, I am now entirely devoted to performing research in entomology, and I am very grateful that even though it was against all odds, I made it to be here.
If you are interested in One Health, there are plenty of ways to get involved through entomology! You can engage in research evaluating host-vector interactions, pathogen-host interactions, vector-pathogen interactions, or vector ecology. For example, some interesting research is done in the interactions between Rickettsia bacteria and tick vectors, to understand transovarial and transstadial transmission, which is critical knowledge to understand the role of vectors as the long-term reservoirs of this infection. Some other ways of being involved in One Health are through policy and advocacy; as climate change is the biggest driver of shifting vector population dynamics, there are important roles in climate health to make an impact on these populations. No matter if you want to pursue a career in research, advocacy, or education, there is a place within the One Health framework, and you can be part of it!
Lídia Gual Gonzalez, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow in the Laboratory of Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina, and the current Medical, Urban & Veterinary Entomology Section representative on the ESA Student Affairs Committee. Email: email@example.com.