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Sunday Times STLive By KAREN VAN ROOYEN, 2011-02-05

Mozzie honour a buzz for Wits prof

MOSQUITO BOAST: Professor Maureen Coetzee has had a subgenus of the Aedes mosquito named after her Picture: SIMPHIWE NKWALI
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A local professor has had the honour of having a mozzie named after her.

Coetzeemyia, a harmless subgenus of the Aedes mosquito, was named after Professor Maureen Coetzee, the director of the Malaria Entomology Research Unit at the University of the Witwatersrand.

A team at the prestigious Smithsonian Institution in the US recently renamed the "distinctive" mosquito in recognition of Coetzee's contribution to the field.

"It's great. It was a total surprise. I didn't even know anything about it until I received a copy of the journal (Zootaxa, a journal of taxonomy) in the post," Coetzee said this week.

"Those who wrote this and did it are highly respected in the mosquito field. If they hadn't sent me the journal, I would never have known."

In the journal, the authors describe how the name Coetzeemyia is derived from Coetzee's surname and "myia", the Greek noun for fly.

They thanked her for assisting with collecting egg batches for one of the researchers who had been studying in Johannesburg, saying: "The subgeneric name also recognises her many contributions to our knowledge of the mosquito fauna of Africa."

The black and white mosquito was first discovered in 1912 and is found in Indian Ocean areas such as the Seychelles, Kenya, Madagascar, Eritrea and Mozambique.

Unlike other Aedes mosquitos, which transmit arboviruses such as yellow fever and dengue fever, Aedes (Coetzeemyia) fryeri is harmless.

"I don't want a deadly mosquito named after me," joked Coetzee.

The research team renamed it after discovering that it was in some aspects physically different from the type in which it had previously been categorised, the Levua.

Coetzeemyia is among the very few mosquito types that breed in sea water.

There are more than 4000 species of mosquito in the world, about 300 of them in Southern Africa.

Of these, two species in South Africa carry the malaria parasite. One mosquito can infect about eight people in its lifetime.

Coetzee, who also sits on World Health Organisation committees looking into malaria, started out as a medical technologist and became interested in mosquitos "quite by accident".

"I had no interest in them. Growing up, I don't remember having a fear, but I wasn't collecting them like some kids do," she said.

But soon she was "growing" mosquitos and today her unit's research includes looking at insecticide resistance.

Coetzee's work over the past 35 years has taken her "just about everywhere except the Indian subcontinent and Russia".

Other highlights include having to describe "half a dozen" new species and, "touch wood" she said, in all that time she had never contracted malaria.

Her husband and former colleague Richard Hunt was not so lucky and contracted the potentially lethal disease three times - once as a teenager in Zimbabwe and then on two separate work-related occasions in Nigeria and Tanzania.

Hunt, who still consults the unit on insecticide resistance, said he was very proud of his wife.

"It really is a tremendous honour. In this career as a medical entomologist, it happens to very few people and it's not just local yokels (who have named it after her)," he said.

The closest Coetzee has come to a specimen of Coetzeemyia is a sample pinned to a board which is catalogued and kept in a drawer with the "thousands" of other samples in the unit's collection at the university.