Josefina del Mármol, Ph.D.


Josefina del Mármol, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology
Harvard Medical School
240 Longwood Ave.
City, State, ZIP
Boston, MA 02115
[email protected]
Research field
Olfactory biology
Award year


The del Mármol lab will elucidate how mosquitoes use their sense of smell to distinguish humans from other animals, which underlies the mosquito’s ability to prey on humans and transmit deadly diseases. Odors provide vital clues about the environment, allowing babies to recognize their mothers, or predators to find their next meal. Although animals can respond to an almost infinite array of odors, their olfactory system is equipped with fewer than a thousand distinct olfactory receptors. How, then, do these molecular detectors recognize specific odors efficiently—and trigger the appropriate behavioral response? As a postdoctoral fellow, I was the first to produce an atomic-level snapshot of an insect olfactory receptor as it cradled the repellent DEET. Now, deploying a suite of advanced methods in biochemistry, molecular genetics, cryo-electron microscopy, and behavior, I will characterize the structural mechanisms that govern the preference for biting humans displayed by Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that transmits dengue and yellow fever. Structural studies of the mosquito olfactory system will allow me to determine the atomic mechanisms that govern sensitivity toward human odors, and to isolate compounds that impair or enhance this activity. My findings will facilitate the development of more effective repellents for curbing the spread of mosquito-borne diseases.

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