Wanek School of Natural Sciences

Jackson Sparks

Dr. Jackson T. Sparks investigates insect chemosensory systems, focusing on the genes conferring specific phenotypes upon primary olfactory and gustatory neurons. His goal as an educator is to help HPU students become the best version of themselves.

Chemicals are used in agriculture, forestry and personal protection to prevent harmful insect behaviors. Repellent chemicals stimulate olfactory and gustatory receptors, whose functional class may often be gleaned by comparing gene sequences from multiple species. Undergraduates will identify chemosensory genes and their functions in economically important pest insects like mosquitoes or weevils using a combination of quantitative PCR, transcriptome sequencing, electrophysiological recording and behavioral analysis. Genetically engineered vinegar flies expressing genes of interest will be used to confirm exact chemical sensitivities of individual receptors ex vivo. These molecular targets may be pharmacologically screened for responses to novel repellents.

Future research directions include high-speed recording of mosquitoes to characterize the exact sequence of behaviors leading to blood feeding. Collaborative efforts are underway in the Biology Department to establish an insectary to allow students to ask their own questions about the biology of insects.

Graphical Abstract

URL for publications list:


Sparks JT, Dickens JC. 2016. Mini review: Gustatory reception of chemicals affecting feeding in aedine mosquitoes. Pesticide Biochemistry and Physiology. (in review)

Sparks JT, Bohbot JD, Ristić M, Mišić D, Skorić M, Mattoo A, Dickens JC. 2016. Chemosensory responses to the repellent Nepeta Essential Oil and its major component nepetalactone by the Yellow Fever Mosquito, Aedes aegypti, a vector of Zika virus. Journal of Medical Entomology (in review) 

Sparks JT, Dickens JC. 2016. Gustatory receptor neuron responds to chemically diverse insect repellents in the common malaria mosquito Anopheles quadrimaculatus. The Science of Nature. 103,5-6:1-11. 

Sparks JT, Dickens JC. 2016. Characterization of labellar gustatory responses of the common malaria mosquito Anopheles quadrimaculatus Say (Diptera: Culicidae). Journal of Medical Entomology. tjw073.

Sparks JT, Bohbot JD, Dickens JC. 2015. Olfactory disruption: Towards controlling important insect vectors of disease. In: Glatz R, ed. Progress in Molecular Biology and Translational Science, Burlington: Academic Press. 130:81-108.

Dickens JC, JD Bohbot, Sparks JT. 2015. Multiple chemosensory targets for discovery of novel chemicals for disruption of mosquito behavior. Antenna [Royal Entomological Society]. 10th European Congress of Entomology:90-91.

Sparks JT, Dickens JC. 2014. Physiological recordings and RNA sequencing of the gustatory appendages of the yellow-fever mosquito Aedes aegypti. Journal of Visualized Experiments. 94:e52088.

Sparks JT, Bohbot JD, Dickens JC. 2014. The genetics of chemoreception in the labella and tarsi of mosquito Aedes aegypti. Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. 48:8-16.

Bohbot JD, Sparks JT, Dickens JC. 2014. The maxillary palp of Aedes aegypti: a model of multisensory integration. Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. 48:29-39.

Sparks JT, Vinyard BT, Dickens JC. 2013. Gustatory receptor expression in the labella and tarsi of Aedes aegypti. Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. 43:1161-1171.

Sparks JT. 2012. The intricate molecular landscape of insect chemosensation: The SNMP gene family. (Doctoral dissertation) Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. (Accession Order No. 3548813)

Vogt RG, Miller NE, Litvack R, Fandino RA, Sparks J, Staples J, Friedman R, Dickens JC. 2009. The insect SNMP gene family. Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. 39:448-456.

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