STEM Shoutout: Dr. Helen Wearing

Biology and Mathematics & Statistics associate professor promoted to professor

Dr. Helen Wearing, an associate professor in the UNM Departments of Biology and Mathematics & Statistics, has been promoted to professor. 


Wearing is a scientist working at the interface of the biological and mathematical sciences. 


She uses mathematical models to understand the biological processes that shape population and community dynamics, with a focus on applications to infectious disease.


“I view it as a milestone in my career as a scientist, mentor and teacher; but I have also used it to reflect on where I am and where I’m going. Particularly, looking back, I appreciate the success I have shared with my colleagues and my students,” Wearing said. “Looking forward, I’m thinking about new research directions and how I can best help junior faculty on their promotion paths.”


At the moment, Wearing is completing an NIH-funded project with a long-time colleague, Dr. Rebecca Christofferson, from Louisiana State University, examining the role of temperature variation in the transmission of mosquito-borne viral disease.


“Dr. Christofferson conducts experiments to measure how mosquito biting and infection rates vary with temperature,” Wearing said. “We then input these data into mathematical models to understand the impact on viral transmission between mosquitoes and humans.”


Wearing and Christofferson’s work has shown that the age at which a female mosquito becomes infected is crucial in determining whether she becomes a disease vector – most vectors are those mosquitoes infected on their first or second bite. 


Their research has also uncovered high variability in individual biting habits, which suggests that some mosquitoes could be disease super-spreaders. The two scientists plan to investigate this variability more closely in a new proposal which was submitted this summer.

Their findings appear in a recently-published article on Parasites & Vectors Journal, “Age-structured vectorial capacity reveals timing, not magnitude of within-mosquito dynamics is critical for arbovirus fitness assessment.”