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With a Little Genetic Reprogramming, Blood-Sucking Can Be Deadly for Mosquitoes

July 20th, 2011

With a Little Genetic Reprogramming, Blood-Sucking Can Be Deadly for Mosquitoes

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What’s the News: Biochemists at the University of Arizona have found a promising new way to fight disease-carrying mosquitoes. In their research project, published in the journal PNAS, the scientists blocked mosquitoes’ ability to digest blood, making blood-sucking deadly to the winged pests. This technique could someday be used alongside other strategies to battle mosquitoes, like repellents and traps.

How the Heck:

  • Mosquitoes, like many other insects, draw most of their nutrients from nectar. But when it comes time to produce eggs, female mosquitoes require large amounts of protein, which they get from blood. So, Roger Miesfeld and his research team decided to see what would happen if they blocked a mosquito’s ability to digest blood.
  • The researchers focused on a protein complex called coatomer protein 1, or  COPI, which is made up of several subunits that cells use to secrete gut enzymes that break down blood proteins. When a mosquito draws blood, cells lining its gut package enzymes in small droplets called  vesicles, and release the packages into the gut.
  • Using a technique called  RNAi, the researchers shutdown individual COPI subunits in about 5,000 mosquitoes. Surprisingly, more than 90 percent of the  yellow fever mosquitoes died within 48 hours of blood feeding. “When she does [feed], all hell starts breaking loose, biochemically and anatomically speaking,” Miesfeld said in a prepared statement.
  • The researchers think that the removal of a COPI subunit makes the whole secretion process defective—It causes the cells lining a mosquito’s gut to fall apart, allowing blood to seep into its body.

What’s the Context:

The Future Holds: Miesfeld says that the research could be used in conjunction with other mosquito-fighting techniques, if they can develop a small molecule that works in place of the injected RNAi. Scientists could douse mosquito nets with the molecule to create an effective mosquito-specific insecticide, or place it in a pill for people to swallow (as with the deworming pill above). Though, Miesfeld notes that genetic changes would eventually make mosquitoes immune to the molecule.

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