Working to advance our scientific understanding of vector-borne disease transmission and ultimately reduce its burden.


The increasing burden of vector-borne diseases (VBDs) in the U.S. represents an urgent health concern. A notable surge in tick-borne diseases, including Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, and babesiosis, is linked to expanding tick vectors' geographic range and increased human interaction with their habitats. Concurrently, dengue outbreaks in the tropics and locally acquired cases like malaria and dengue emerging in the US are concerning. Climate change exacerbates the issue by creating favorable environments for mosquitoes and ticks in previously low-risk areas, and as human populations become more mobile, diseases spread more readily. Addressing this crisis will require integrating research, public health initiatives, and community engagement. Proactive strategies, informed by interdisciplinary research, are crucial to mitigate the impact of VBDs on public health in the U.S.

VBDs manifest through complex interactions between pathogens, vectors, and animal reservoir hosts before eventually causing human disease. Our understanding of VBDs depends on scientific contributions from a wide range of fields. For example, entomologists decode the biology of vectors and parasites, offering insights into their behavior. Wildlife ecologists analyze reservoir populations, illuminating disease transmission in animals. Epidemiologists, ecologists, and microbiologists study the broader ecological context. Behavioral scientists decipher human behavior affecting disease spread. Veterinary professionals bridge animal and human health, while genomics experts seek to understand the genetic basis for disease emergence and transmission. Immunologists explore immune responses, public health experts develop prevention strategies, and data scientists and bioinformaticians glean insights about disease patterns from “big data.” This VBD Critical Issue Initiative aims to foster collaboration among these diverse disciplines, capitalizing on the strengths of each and leading to a more comprehensive understanding of VBDs.

The short- and medium-term term goals of this initiative are to identify Penn State’s research and extension expertise relative to the most critical scientific and policy gaps and develop VBD-related grant proposals for integrated research and extension projects. Along the way, we hope to establish relationships with industry partners, funding agency program officers, and Pennsylvania state government officials. In the long run, we hope to build a statewide consortium on VBD to enhance broad-based collaboration with stakeholders across Pennsylvania. This type of interdisciplinary and community-engaged approach enhances the quality of the research output and aligns with Penn State's broader land grant mission.


Erika Machtiger, Ph.D. 
Associate Professor of Entomology
Department of Entomology

Associated Members

We are currently accepting applications to become an Associate or Affiliate with this Critical Issue Initiative! Please complete this form or email Aaron Cook ( and Erika Machtinger ( to join!