Stephen Higgs, Ph.D., F.R.E.S., F.A.S.T.M.H.

Stephen HiggsEducation

B.S., Zoology, (HONS)1980 King’s College, London, UK Ph.D., Parasitology, 1985 University of Reading, UK Fellow 1992 Royal Entomological Society


Associate Vice President for Research,
Research Director, Biosecurity Research Institute (BRI),
Peine Professor of Biosecurity,
Professor, Diagnostic Medicine & Pathobiology,
Kansas State University. 

Editor-in-Chief, Vector-Borne & Zoonotic Diseases.

Tel:  785 532 1333
Fax: 785 532 0973

My role at K-State

I joined Kansas State University in July 2011 as the Associate Vice President for Research and the Research Director of the Biosecurity Research Institute (BRI). In these roles, I am committed to the strengthening of existing research, the development of new research opportunities that will both enable the BRI to become an internationally recognized center for research on all aspects of animal and plant diseases, food safety and security, and related public health issues, and accomplishing the goal of K-State-2025 becoming a top 50 research university. I personally believe in the importance and power of working as collaborative teams.  With K-State faculty, local and federal Government agencies, the US military and public and private-sector groups from the United States and overseas, we will expand biosafety, biosecurity and biocontainment research and educational programs. The BRI’s state-of-the-art training facilities and our staff are an integral component of the BRI’s future success that will establish the next generation of expertise in these fields. The BRI training facility will allow students the opportunity to train for, successfully compete for, and pursue diverse and exciting careers. The BRI training facility is also available for training for our partners. 

With interdisciplinary biosecurity research programs, agrosecurity initiatives and the development of collaborative research, the BRI is the all-important platform for transitioning work currently conducted at the Plum Island Animal Diseases Center (PIADC) to the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF). The long-established expertise in many K-State academic colleges and departments, and the relocation and/or establishment of groups here, for example, the Center of Excellence for Emerging Animal Diseases (CEEZAD), the Center for Grain and Animal Health (CGAHR), the Arthopod-Borne Animal Diseases Unit (ABADRU), and National Agricultural Biosecurity Center (NABC) will ensure the safe, secure continuance of our Nation’s research on potential threats to our agricultural and food industries and related public health.

Administration Experience

I am currently Editor-in-Chief of the international journal Vector-Borne & Zoonotic Diseases and have recently been appointed to the Editorial Board of Biosecurity and Bioterrorism. Biodefense Strategy, Practice and Science. I am a member of the Executive Council of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, Chairman of the Society’s Education Committee, ex-Chairman of the Policy and Advocacy Committee,  a member of the Membership Committee, a member of the Subcommittee on Arbovirus Laboratory Safety (SALS) and a member of the Subcommittee on the Evaluation of Arthropod-borne Status (SEAS). As a past Chairman of the American Committee for Medical Entomology, I helped to develop containment guidelines for both vectors and the agents they transmit at different biosafety levels.

Educational Activity

At the University of Texas Medical Branch, I was the Director of the Experimental Pathology Graduate Program.  I have therefore had the opportunity to mentor numerous students. Recent graduates from my laboratory at UTMB have been employed at CDC Puerto Rico, the Institute Pasteur in Paris, the University of North Carolina, and at UC Berkeley.


My philosophy and commitment to develop collaborations for the benefit of all parties, is the key to my research success. Through networking with national public and private-sector entities, and international pharmaceutical companies I interface with senior personnel to developed collaborative multidisciplinary scientific investigations and research programs that includes: vector biology, infectious diseases, immunology, and vaccine development. The ability to offer researchers from other Institutes the opportunities to conduct research in complex biocontainment research facilities with appropriate security has resulted in a history of success with respect to obtaining competitive federal funding.

The fundamental philosophy underlying my scientific career is to leverage and coordinate specific expertise and understanding, to empower individuals for personal growth so that they realize their full potential, and to develop collaborative projects that bring together complimentary resources and disciplines. The facilities and the individuals with whom I have had the privilege to work have resulted in a very satisfying ongoing research program.  With competitive funding from varied sources over the years, I have directed my group’s multidisciplinary research that encompasses many aspects of vector-borne viruses, with my particular interests focusing on mosquito-virus-vertebrate interactions. Using wild type and genetically engineered chikungunya, Sindbis, o’nyong nyong, West Nile, and yellow fever viruses we have been examining fundamental aspects of virus-vector interactions. Several recent projects have involved vaccine development and evaluation, including genetic modification, vector competence tests and non-human primate experiments. Our research on a new chikungunya virus (CHIKV) vaccine (Nature Medicine, 2010) was preceded by a long standing interest in this virus that began before the ongoing epidemic that has recently infected over 2M people. Our development of patented infectious clones of this CHIKV has placed us at the forefront of research on this virus. We have distributed these research tools to other groups in an effort to better understand the epidemic.

My group at UTMB have collaborated with colleagues at Notre Dame, Tulane, the University of Pittsburg, with support from the National Institutes of Health, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; and also work with scientist from Pharmaceutical companies. A recent interest has developed from the realization that during biting, an arthropod secretes substances that not only influence pathogen transmission, but also determine the severity of the disease. In collaboration with Drs. Lynn Soong, Stephen Wikel, Bob Tesh, and Saravanan Thangamani at UTMB, we have identified some of the molecules and mechanisms that are involved in this fascinating phenomenon.

Recent Publications (2010-2011)

Colpitts, T.M., Cox, J., Vanlandingham, D.L., Feitosa, F., Cheng, Kurscheid, S. Wang,P, Krishnan, M.N., Higgs, S., Fikrig, E Colpitts et al " 2011. Alterations in the Aedes aegypti transcriptome during infection with West Nile, dengue and yellow fever viruses" PLoS Pathogens (in press)

McGee, C.E., Tsetsarkin, K.A., Guy, B., Lang, J., Plante, K., Vanlandingham, D.L., Atasheva, S., Frolov, I., & Higgs, S.  2011. Stability of Yellow Fever Virus under Recombinatory Pressure as Compared with Chikungunya Virus PLoS ONE 6(8): e23247. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0023247

Tsetsarkin, K.A., McGee, C.E. & Higgs, S.  2011. Chikungunya virus adaptation to Aedes albopictus mosquitoes does not correlate with acquisition of cholesterol dependence or decreased pH threshold for fusion reaction. Virology Journal (in press).

Van den Hurk, A., Horne, K., McGee, C., Hall-Mendelin, S., Day, A., Ryan, P., Ritchie, S., Vanlandingham, D. & Higgs, S. 2011. Vector competence of Australian mosquitoes for yellow fever virus. AM.J. Trop. Med. Hyg. (in press)

Tstesarkin, K.A., Chen, R., Leal, G., Forrester, N., Higgs, S., Huang, J. & Weaver, S.C.  2010.  Chikungunya virus emergence is constrained in Asia by lineage-specific adaptive landscapes. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci.

Bartholomay, L. C., et al., 2010. Pathogenomics of Culex quinquefasciatus and Meta-Analysis of Infection Responses to Diverse Pathogens.  Science. 10:88-90.

Arensburger, P., et al., 2010. Sequencing of Culex quinquefasciatus establishes a platform for mosquito comparative genomics.  Science 10:86-87.

Thangamani, S., Higgs, S., Ziegler, S., Vanlandingham, D., Tesh, R. & Wikel, S. 2010. Host immune   response to mosquito-transmitted chikungunya virus differs from that elicited by needle inoculated virus. PloSOne. 5 e12137.

Schneider, B.S., Soong, L., Coffey, L.A., Stevenson, H.L. & Higgs, S. 2010.  Aedes aegypti Saliva Alters Leukocyte Recruitment and Cytokine Signaling by Antigen-Presenting Cells during West Nile Virus Infection. PloSONE 5: e11704

Bernard, E., Solignat, M., Gay, B., Chazal, N., Higgs, S., Devaux, C & Briant, L. 2010. Endocytosis of chikungunya virus into mammalian cells: a role of clathrin and early endosomal compartments.  PloSOne 5: e11479

Gardner, J., Anraku, I., Le, T.T., Larcher, T., Major, L., Roques, P., Schroder, W.A., Higgs, S. &   Suhrbier, A. 2010.   Chikungunya virus arthritis in adult wild-type mice. J. Virol. 84: 8021-32

Volk, S.M., Chen, R., Tsetsarkin, K.A., Adams, A.P., Garcia, T.I., Sall, A.A.,  Nasar, F., Schuh, A.J., Holmes, E.C., Higgs, S, A., Maharaj, P.D., Brault.C. & Weaver, S.C. 2010. Genome scale phylogenetic analyses of chikungunya virus reveal independent emergences of recent epidemics and varying evolutionary rates. J. Virol. 84: 6497-504.

Skalsky, R.L., Vanlandingham, D.L., Scholle, F., Higgs S. & Cullen, B.R. 2010. Identification of microRNAs expressed in two mosquito vectors, Aedes albopictus and Culex quinquefasciatus.  BMC Genomics. Feb 18;11(1):119

Girard, YA., Mayhew, G.F., Fuchs, J.F., Schneider, B.S., Li, H., Rocheleau, R.A., Christensen, B.M., Higgs, S. & Bartholomay, L.C. 2010. Transcriptome changes in Culex quinquefasciatus salivary glands during West Nile virus infection  J. Med Entomol. 47:421-435.

Higgs, S. & Ziegler, S. 2010. Chikungunya: A Non-human Primate Model to Evaluate the Basis of Human Disease Symptoms. J. Clinical Invest. 120: 657-660.

Akahara, W., Yang, Z., Andersen, H., Sun, S., Yoder, J.D., Kong, W.-P., Lewis, M., Higgs, S., Rossmann, M.G., Rao, S., et al. 2010. A VLP vaccine for epidemic chikungunya virus protects non- human primates against infection. Nature Medicine. 16: 334-8 2010.

Kraxner, A., Tschopp, J., Higgs, S., Michault, A., Arenzana-Seisdedos, F., Colonna, M., Peduto, L., Schwartz, O., Lecuit, M. & Albert, A.L.2010. Type I IFN controls chikungunya virus via its action on non-hematopoietic cells. J. Exp. Medicine. 207: 429-442.

Guy, B., Guirakhoo, F., Barban, V., Higgs, S., Monath, T.P. & Lang, J. 2010. Preclinical and clinical encephalitis viruses. Vaccine. 28: 632-49.