In memory of Mir Mulla, Emeritus Professor of Entomology

By Kathy Keatley Garvey | UC ANR |
Mir Mulla
Mir Mulla

UC ANR - UC Davis faculty and friends are remembering internationally recognized medical entomologist Mir Mulla, a UC Riverside distinguished emeritus professor of entomology whose university career spanned 50 years of teaching, research and public service. He died Jan. 29 at his home in Riverside at age 97.

Robert Washino, emeritus professor of entomology, emeritus chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, and emeritus associate dean of the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences,  praised him for his research and friendship.

"I first met Mir who was on the UC Riverside campus in the early 1960s for the first organizational meeting of the UC Systemwide Mosquito Research Program with biologists representing UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UCLA and UC Riverside," Washino recalled. "From that day forward, all of us in mosquito research competed for research funding and became either friends and/or competitors and sometimes both. I could have written a book on all that took place and it would have been a best seller if it were ever published but it was fun while it lasted!"

That was when the names of Barr, Work, Shaefer, Garcia, Reeves, Belkin, Bohart, Mulla and Washino--and more--populated the mosquito research news, or names "from the good ol days," said Washino, now 91.

"Mir was a great help to me getting started at UC Riverside, particularly in my mosquito days," said UC Davis distinguished professor Bruce Hammock, who holds a joint appointment with the Department of Entomology and Nematology and the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Major Dhillon, retired district manager of the Northwest Mosquito Abatement District, headquartered in Corona, Riverside County, and executive director emeritus of Society for Vector Ecology (SOVE), based in Ontario, Calif., was a 49-year friend and colleague.

"He was my major professor under whom I got my doctorate," Dhillon said. "I met him when he was 49 years old and I lost him after 49 years.  He was a great mentor and TRULY an exemplary scientist of international fame.” 

Dhillon said that Mulla donated $50,000 to SOVE last year at a memorial lecture. Mulla is credited with helping establish the UC Riverside's medical entomology department. He was named a fellow of the Entomological Society of America in 1995 and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1998. The World Health Organization honored him with its Distinguished Service Award in 2010, and SOVE singled him out for a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.

Mulla's Formula. Mulla was a close associate of William "Bill" Reisen, professor emeritus, Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Reisen wrote about Mulla's Formula to Estimate Control in a book, Vector Biology, Ecology and Control, pages 127-137, published in 2010:

"In California, the endemic mosquito borne encephalitides, including West Nile virus, are contained by special districts using integrated vector management programs. These agencies combine public education, source reduction and proactive larval control to suppress mosquito abundance to the point where tangential transmission of virus to humans is rare or unlikely. However, when these methods in concert fail to prevent enzootic amplification and the risk of human infection becomes eminent or is on-going, emergency adulticide applications of pyrethrin compounds are used to interrupt transmission. The efficacy of these applications has become controversial and some cities have opted to not apply adul-ticides. The current paper describes how a formula developed Dr. Mir Mulla some 40 years ago is still useful in solving contemporary problems of estimating percent control, a statistic useful in evaluating intervention efficacy. This simple but effective equation accounts for changes in both control and treated populations and thereby can be applied in dynamic situations where abundance is not stable. Examples are presented from ground and aerial experimental applications in Riverside County and from emergency interventions in Sacramento County in 2005 and Yolo County in 2006." 

According to a 2008 UC Riverside newsletter, Mir served as a major professor for 27 doctoral students and three master's students; mentored more than 30 visiting scientists from overseas; and trained 20 postdoctoral scientists. "Dr. Mulla has made noteworthy contributions to, and has served in, numerous national and international organizations. These include the World Health Organization, with over 40 years of service in capacities such as science advisor, member of the Expert Advisory Panel, member or chair of steering committees or scientific working groups, as well as temporary advisor on numerous international projects. His publications (over 400) are well known around the world and are sought after by many scientists and specialists."

Native of Afghanistan. Born in Zangawat, Afghanistan to a family of 12 brothers and 4 sisters, Mir received a scholarship in 1948 to Cornell University where he obtained his undergraduate degree in entomology and parasitology in 3.5 years. He received his doctorate at UC Berkeley. In 1956, joined the UC Riverside faculty to help establish a medical entomology department, and launched his research on the control of eye gnats and mosquitoes.

From the Riverside Press-Enterprise obituary: "In his 50-year career as a medical entomologist, Dr. Mulla pioneered insect control methods throughout Southern California and the world. Mir's techniques for eye gnat and mosquito control improved people's health worldwide. He was a prolific scientist who authored more than 500 scientific publications. He loved field work and was a demanding editor, guiding over 30 graduate students. Mir led World Health Organization efforts to help developing countries control vector-borne diseases, including malaria. He traveled to many countries in this endeavor."

His wife of 64 years, Leila "Lee" Patterson Mulla, died Aug. 9, 2019 at age 88. They met at the International House at UC Berkeley during his graduate studies and married in August 1954. They raised four children, David, Shireen, Dean and Janet.

"Mir served as a leader in the Riverside Muslim community," according to the obituary. "He and Lelia founded the Islamic Society of Riverside and Orange Counties and played a key role in building the Islamic Center of Riverside, the first mosque in the Inland Empire. His philanthropic work included supporting the local Muslim community, donating land to Riverside County Parks to preserve public access to Sugarloaf Mountain for generations and establishing scholarships with the University of California Riverside in the College of Agriculture and Natural Sciences."

A Muslim funeral prayer (Janazah) will be held Friday, Feb. 3 after the 1 p.m. Jum'a prayer at Islamic Center of Riverside, 1038 W Linden St., Riverside. A public memorial service will be held Saturday, Feb. 4 at 11 a.m. at the Norco Family Funeral Home, 2645 Hammer Ave, Norco, followed by burial at 1:20 p.m. Saturday at Pierce Brothers Crestlawn Mortuary, 11500 Arlington Ave, Riverside.

Donations in his memory can be made to the Dr. Mir S. Mulla and Lelia L. Mulla Endowed Scholarship Fund, UC Riverside Foundation (access and search for "Mulla") or the Islamic Center of Riverside,



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