It is with great sadness that I report the passing of my friend, colleague and my former PhD student Dr. Ernst-Jan Scholte, yesterday, 16 March 2014. Although obituaries are normally written for scientists that died at an old age and had a massive track record in our field, I feel the urge to commemorate and remember this great person in front of you all at MalariaWorld. He became only 40 years of age - after fighting cancer for a year.
Ernst-Jan first contacted me in 1998 when he was still a biology student at the Wageningen University. At that time I was working in Nairobi for the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE). Ernst-Jan (or EJ as many called him) wanted to study mosquitoes and do an internship with me for six months. He was lucky. Within a week after he arrived in Kenya we undertook a wonderful safari to the border with Tanzania, visiting and hiking in a Masai area where I had previously worked on tsetse flies. EJ loved it from day one. He fell in love with Africa, its people and its wildlife, and was extremely motivated in his work. I will never forget the nights we camped out in the bush together...
EJ brought his guitar to Kenya. A hobby we share, and on numerous occassions during those six months I had the pleasure of playing together with him. And since we liked the same music and artists it quickly glued us together. After some time in Nairobi, EJ moved out to ICIPE's field station, where he worked within a team of Kenyan entomologists. He blended in perfectly and to this day those working in Mbita remember him as a joyful, enthusiastic, and highly creative person.
What EJ did not realise at that time is that sixteen years later, today, we consider him a pioneer in the use of entomopathogenic fungi for the control of mosquitoes. He was one of the first to expose African malaria mosquitoes to Metarhizium anisopliae, almost immediately with great success. He developed his own bioassay methodology, isolated local fungi in the field, and came up with an endless stream of novel and creative ideas for the application of his success. He obtained his MSc in September 1999.
EJ then worked in Europe, on the Asian tiger mosquito. When he was based in Bologna I often joked with him that this was not the 'real thing', working on what I called 'camping mosquitoes' rather than working on malaria (the real thing). Little did we know at that time that eight years later the African Chikungunya virus would strike in Italy...
We used his MSc success to sollicit for funding for him to do a PhD on fungi and mosquitoes - a grant we got from the Dutch Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). EJ returned to Kenya in 2001 where once more he undertook numerous experiments with fungi as a biological control method for malaria mosquitoes. Almost every experiment he thought up delivered publishable results, which was amazing in itself. EJ made many friends in Mbita, and given his beard and long hair became locally known as Jezus. EJ loved to explore the surrounding of Mbita on his bike (his other hobby was biking). We shared many wonderful moments, sitting on top of the Gembe hills, overlooking Lake Victoria whilst having a beer.
In 2003, well into his PhD, EJ had collected enough data to attempt a field trial with fungus. A trial that he undertook in Ifakara (at the Ifakara Health Institute), Tanzania. EJ teamed with the (then) MSc student Kija Ng'habi and the two formed an excellent team (see picture) that stayed out in the bush (in Lupiro) for weeks on end. I visited EJ and Kija in those days and given the primitive circumstances under which they were conducting field work, they deserve massive credit for what they accomplished. In fact, both gentlemen were so successful with their trial that eventually their work was published in one of the world's most prestigious scientific journals: Science. Fungus in sunflower oil, handbrushed on pieces of black cloth suspended under roofs in local houses. The fact that Science published their work shows how important their contribution was - they were planting the seeds for what today has become a movement of scientists around the world working on fungi for mosquito control. They were pioneers indeed.
EJ wrote an excellent thesis that many after him have used to start their work on fungi and mosquitoes. He published a long list of papers on the subject, many of which are cited in articles we read today (see list below). On 30 November 2004 he obtained his PhD degree.
EJ then moved back to Holland and we met less frequently. He became the Dutch expert on invasions of Asian tiger mosquitoes, and he was engaged in the first finding of this species in Holland in 2005. Later, his expertise in this field would lead to his position as head of the Vector Monitoring Centre, where he led monitoring efforts around the country for invasive mosquito species. He loved his work, collaborated with scientists in large networks, and as far as I recall I never heard a bad word about him.
EJ will be sorely missed. In the world of medical entomology, amongst friends and colleagues, and his loved ones. But his scientific legacy will live on and will stimulate many (certainly myself) to continue push forward the introduction of biological control of adult mosquitoes with fungi as an alternative to chemical insecticides. Pioneers should not be forgotten. EJ was one of them.
Ernst-Jan is survived by his Italian wife, Patrizia, and their two children Sofia and Stefano. I wish them much strength in these difficult times.
1: Ansari MA, Pope EC, Carpenter S, Scholte EJ, Butt TM. Entomopathogenic fungus as a biological control for an important vector of livestock disease: the Culicoides biting midge. PLoS One. 2011 Jan 10;6(1):e16108. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0016108. PubMed PMID: 21264343; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3018483.