Mosquito chief takes over at Agricultural Experiment Station

Theodore Andreadis –- the man Connecticut residents have come to know over the last decade-and-a-half for his reports on mosquito activity in the state -– is the new director of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. He replaces Louis Magnarelli who died in July.

No official announcement has been made yet, though Andreadis in fact began his new duties Oct. 4. Kirby Stafford, vice-director of the station, had served as interim director after Magnarelli’s death.

Andreadis has spent his entire career at the Experiment Station -– beginning right after receiving his Ph.D. in entomology in 1978. He became the chief medical entomologist in 1992 and from that position launched a mosquito trapping and testing program in 1997. At the time his program was to track Eastern Equine Encephalitis. Two years later it expanded to cover West Nile virus, when the experiment station became the first to culture it in North America.

Today Andreadis’ trapping and testing program has 91 locations and examines as many as 200,000 mosquitoes a year. “As a result of the program we have had a limited number of human cases, at least of West Nile,” he said.

Andreadis takes over at the Experiment Station as it settles into a little more business as usual after several years that threatened its existence. Both former Gov. John Rowland and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy sought to eliminate it in budget-cutting efforts. But public outcries reversed both, though the station continues to battle state budget cuts and ongoing federal cutbacks. Federal funding accounts for just over one-third of its $11.5 million budget.

“We have had cuts in federal spending directly impact us,” Andreadis said. “I’m very hopeful, at least on a state level – that there’s now a clear recognition of our service. Our support within the legislature seems to be quite strong.”

The Experiment Station, founded in 1875, was the first in the U.S. It has been known in recent years for its work with Lyme and other tick diseases, but among its earlier accomplishments was the development of the high-yielding hybrid corn that revolutionized the commercial sweet corn industry.

Andreadis said he plans to review all research priorities in the near future, but at this point expects to continue with the traditional core research areas -– including disease detection and monitoring and defense against environmental and agricultural pests such as the current infestation by the emerald ash borer.

With three research farms in addition to its main New Haven campus, the station is a critical component of the state’s agriculture industry doing crop development and disease prevention. It also regulates the state’s greenhouse and nursery industry, which accounts for about half the state’s agriculture.

But Andreadis said he would be looking at moving in new directions. “I’m interested in bringing in new young staff,” he said. “I want to make sure we are on the cutting edge of science.

“It’s very, very important that we continue to focus on issues of concern to region.”

He repeated several times that the station couldn’t rest on its laurels or accomplishments from 20 years ago. “I like to say we have to earn our stripes every day,” he said.

That said, he emphasized that the all-important tick and mosquito research and testing will remain.

As mosquito season winds down, Andreadis said the overall results were quite opposite. West Nile was found in more than two dozen communities, but there have been only two human cases this season –- a contrast to last summer’s worst ever 21 cases. He attributed that to early season heavy rains that flushed out a lot of the insects so population growth never really got going.

But Eastern Equine Encephalitis was another matter with a very early and extremely high level of activity in the Voluntown area and through the eastern part of the state. It resulted in the Aug. 22 closing of the campground at Pachaug State Forest -– the first ever closing due to triple-E, as it is called. The campground remains closed.

There was one equine case and hundreds, if not 1,000, pheasants died from the disease, Andreadis said.

And while his new position will mean a mostly administrative role, Andreadis vowed to keep his hands in mosquito research.

“I just love it too much,” he said.

 

 

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