A passion for science — and fighting malaria

2 min read

Before Perrine Marcenac even enrolled at Harvard School of Public Health, the institution changed her life.

During an interview for the Ph.D. Program in Biological Sciences in Public Health, Marcenac found herself fascinated by her faculty interviewers’ work on the malaria vector and parasite, and by the time she said good-bye, she’d found her research calling.

“I remember thinking ‘Wow! That’s really interesting,’” recalls Marcenac, now a second-year doctoral student. “During these 30-minute conversations with them, I just instantly knew. They asked me the right questions. They challenged me. I could see their passion. I don’t think picking up a paper and reading it could have given me nearly the same desire to work in the field.”

That desire has stayed with her. These days, the 27-year-old Marcenac is absorbed in research on mosquito biology and how malaria spreads. In particular, she is exploring the interplay between reproduction and immunity in Anopheles gambiae, the primary mosquito vector responsible for the transmission of malaria in most of sub-Saharan Africa. Highlights of her work to date include field research in the West African nation of Burkina Faso, which she describes as incredibly demanding but also exhilarating.

“It’s really critical to test in the field with natural populations of mosquitos—to see if our results are the same there as they are in the lab,” she explains.