Prof. Caio Mario Coluzzi Bartoccioni, 1938–2012
30 October 2012 | Geneva
We are deeply saddened by the recent passing of Professor Mario Coluzzi, after years of fighting Parkinson disease with the strenuous support of his beloved family.
Professor Coluzzi was one of the world’s foremost experts of malaria vectors. His work on the Anopheles gambiae complex, spanning more than 35 years of research in Africa, unravelled the existence of at least nine cryptic taxa with high levels of chromosomal polymorphisms enabling these vectors to colonize different environments.
He was fascinated by malaria from a very young age, as his house in Monticelli became the headquarters for malaria elimination in the Frosinone province. The malaria campaign was managed by his father Alberto, the last Director of the Italian Institute of Malariology.
Professor Coluzzi started his research while still in secondary school, and developed field methods to study the effect of DDT on malaria vectors. His first publication with original findings on the irritability of DDT on anopheline vectors demonstrated that irritability per se of DDT has an impact on malaria transmission in temperate areas. This also explained the apparent lack of development of DDT resistance in many areas in spite of years of continued use.
During his early work in Nigeria, he demonstrated that key behaviours of Anopheles gambiae sl, such as endophily and anthropophily, are linked to genetic determinants. The existence of heterogeneous population groups with different behaviours in the main African vectors explained the failure of indoor residual spraying in interrupting malaria transmission in the Garki project in northern Nigeria.
Professor Coluzzi developed a simple and reliable technique to examine polytenic chromosomes in the ovarian nurse cells in half gravid mosquitoes, and trained scientists from all parts of the world, particularly from Africa, to master this technique.
Through personal mentorship, institutional networking and skilful management he developed and nurtured multiple research networks, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.
He was passionate in sharing the lessons of the Italian malariologist with the wider international community, and promoted the creation of the African school of malariology. As Professor of Parasitology he inspired generations of students in understanding the complex relations between the biological, environmental, social and economic determinants of malaria and neglected tropical diseases.
Since 1982 he directed the Institute of Parasitology of the University “La Sapienza” of Rome, which became a WHO Collaborating Center for Research and Training in Malaria Epidemiology. He was a keen supporter of WHO’s work, contributing to the many expert and advisory groups on malaria control, applied field research and research capacity strengthening.
In recognition of his excellent work, Professor Coluzzi received multiple awards, including in 2003 the Emile Brumpt International Prize and in 2008 the BioMalPar Life Award.
Dr José Najera, former Director of the WHO Division of Control of Tropical Diseases wrote of him: “He was the man who, almost single-handedly, maintained the quality of malaria research during the dark decades of malariology. I always admired the force of his inspiring example, capable of creating a school not only in Italy but in several countries of Africa, and of pushing the Italian International Cooperation towards scientifically valid projects. We must all lament the loss of a truly great man, but also find a way of perpetuating his image and his values.”