Biology was Joshua Raji’s best subject when he was growing up. It was his favorite subject, and he was good at it. He suspects that he may have inherited his passion for biology from his mother. “My mum is a science teacher,” he says. “I guess it rubbed off on me.”
Joshua’s passion for biology endured. In Nigeria, he earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from the Federal University of Technology, Akure and a master’s degree in cell biology and genetics from the University of Lagos. He came to the United States to study the mosquito species responsible for yellow fever, a research interest led him to FIU and to Dr. Matthew DeGennaro’s Laboratory of Tropical Genetics.
“I wanted to be mentored by a scientist who has made significant contributions to the field of mosquito research,” Joshua says. “I felt doing my research with Dr. Matthew DeGennaro would be perfect for me because my prior research experience with mosquitoes lacks a molecular and genetics approach.”
Joshua, a fourth-year doctoral student, is working to identify the genes that enable the Zika and dengue fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti, to be attracted to humans. He and Dr. DeGennaro have discovered a gene that enables mosquitoes to detect human sweat. Their paper on the topic is slated to be published in “Current Biology”.
“My research promises to provide insight into the genetic basis of mosquito attraction to humans,” Joshua says. “The results could inform our knowledge to develop appropriate vector control measures that would combat the spread of mosquito-borne diseases.”
Joshua was recently awarded the T. Wainwright Miller, Jr. Scholarship and is the first FIU student to receive the award since it was established in 2008. According to the website for the Florida Mosquito Control Association, “The purpose of the award is to encourage and assist students having a major in Biological, Ecological and/or Entomological studies who are seeking degrees relevant to arthropod control, with particular emphasis on Public Health fields.”
Joshua’s love of biology includes a talent and passion for teaching the subject to others. He is a teaching assistant in the Department of Biological Sciences and the 2018 recipient of the FIU Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant award. He has also participated in and earned prizes at student oral competitions on campus, including the Biosymposium, Biomedical and Comparative Immunology Symposium and Graduate Student Appreciation Week.
After completing his doctoral degree, Joshua plans to continue to hone his research skills in a postdoctoral position.