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Peter Atkinson

Professor of Entomology
Watch research video Director, Center for Disease Vector Research
Director, Cell, Molecular and Developmental Biology Graduate Program
Peter Atkinson

Areas of Expertise

Areas of Expertise:
  • Transposable elements and DNA recombination
  • Mosquito Genomics
  • Agricultural Pest Control
  • Transposons in Human Gene Therapy
College: Affiliations: Press Release / Article:

Select Honors and Distinctions

  • 2009 to present Editorial Board, Mobile DNA
  • 2006-2010 Member, NIAID panel on Vector Biology
  • 2006-present Director, UCR Center for Disease Vector Research
  • 2004-2006 Member AD HOC NIH panel on Tropical Medicine and Parasitology
  • 2004 Associate Director, UCR Institute for Integrative Genome Biology
  • 2003 Interim Director, UCR Genomics Institute
  • 1999 to present Editorial Board, Insect Molecular Biology
  • 1999 to present Editorial Board, Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Research Summary

Developing genetic-based technologies and tools that help reduce the ability of insects to transmit human diseases such as malaria and dengue.

Q&A

Q: What kind of research is your lab currently doing?
The overall goal of my research is to develop molecular-based strategies to genetically control pest insects. My laboratory focuses on transposable elements of DNA -- bits of genetic material that move from place to place in the genome -- since they are the only means by which new DNA can be introduced into insects and be inherited over successive generations. My lab is also using this approach to interupt the means by which mosquitoes spread malaria and yellow fever.

Q: How does your work impact global health?
Relieving the disease burden of developing countries is a large component of global health programs and has benefits that are not confined by international borders. Our efforts to control and prevent the spread of disease in impoverished nations will ultimately impact the health and economic well-being of first-world countries as well.

Q: Why is there a need for genetic control-based solutions?
In the past, chemical insecticides have worked, but they come at significant environmental and health costs. Large- scale draining of swamps, road closures and other water management strategies only work in countries that can afford to implement them. Genetic control of insects has worked against several pest species, but to employ this technique against mosquitoes requires us to develop a new “genetic toolbox” that makes them more amenable to genetic manipulations.

Q: Can you describe one key area of investigation?
Transposons are jumping genes. They jump around from one chromosome to another, inserting themselves into or between genes. It is now becoming clear that at least two classes of RNA molecules regulate transposable element movement in cells. By understanding the molecular basis of this function, we can develop transposon tools that work in a predictable and efficient way with mosquitoes.

Q: What makes UCR a good fit for your research?
In many ways we are entering a “golden age” in the life sciences and, thanks to a collective effort, UCR is well placed to play a leading role in it.

First, the stellar reputation of the Entomology Department which has, for many decades, profoundly influenced U.S. and international pest management schemes. Second, the recent establishment of our new Genomics Core Facility which enables me to examine the incredible diversity of insects and to explore fundamental questions about the biological systems I work on. UCR has a world-leading cohort of faculty working in the field of small RNA, which also aids my program.

Q: What are you currently reading?
I’m reading Storms of My Grandchildren by James Hansen. It is an account of the science and consequences of climate change. Also Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne and The Return of Depression Economics by Paul Krugman.
Peter Atkinson "The overall goal of my research is to develop molecular-based strategies to genetically control pest insects."

—Peter Atkinson