New Genetic Trick Could Bring Deadly Results for Mosquitoes

Researchers have found a genetic switch that blocks mosquitoes' ability to digest blood, which could effectively lessen mosquito populations.

Over the years, biologists and epidemiologists have done many different tests in hopes of killing mosquitoes carrying malaria and yellow fever. Experiments ranging from dirty sock treatment to genetic tinkering to laser and nano-attacks have all been attempted with varying levels of success. However, the newest trick that scientists are working with could be the best defense for humans yet.

Researchers have found a genetic switch that blocks mosquitoes’ ability to digest blood, which could effectively lessen mosquito populations, especially among females that carry the malaria parasite and, of course, handle the more important part of the breeding process. Normally, mosquitoes feed on nectar but during breeding periods the females need protein from blood and, when ingesting it, they produce a certain enzyme that allows digestion to occur.

Yet when the genes that lead to the production of the enzyme were switched off, things went south for the mosquitoes. After ingesting the blood, their bodies could not handle what was ingested and the mosquitoes’ guts began to break down, thus causing blood to seep into their bodies. Within 48 hours, 90 percent of the insects tested were dead.

Now the only task for researchers is to find a way of delivering this genetic weapon on a larger scale. Instead of individually injecting them with RNAi, the compound that turns off their genes, scientists must somehow get their deadly recipe into a small molecule that can be sprayed or packed into a pill.

Around the Web

Killing Mosquitoes with a Genetic Trick that Makes Digesting Blood Deadly [Popular Science]

With a Little Genetic Reprogramming, Blood Sucking Can Be Deadly for Mosquitoes [Discover Magazine]

Defects in coatomer protein I (COPI) transport cause blood feeding-induced mortality in Yellow Fever mosquitoes [National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America]