August 9, 2011

Scientists Successfully Create Spermless Mosquitoes

Scientists have created spermless mosquitoes in an effort to curb the spread of malaria.

Experts say this could be an important step to reducing the mosquito populations in the wild.

Malaria kills about a million people around the world every year and accounts for 20 percent of all childhood deaths in Africa.

Scientists injected 10,000 mosquito embryos with tiny fragments of RNA designed to turn off a gene known as zpg.

The researchers created about 100 spermless mosquitoes that females were just as willing to mate with.

Co-author Professor Charles Godfray, from the University of Oxford Department of Zoology, said in a press release: "This is an exciting time with modern genetics providing a series of new ideas about how to control the major insect vectors of human disease, including the mosquito Anopheles gambiae - perhaps the single most dangerous insect species for mankind."

"A number of these techniques involve disrupting natural mating patterns and to get these to work a really good understanding of mosquito mating and reproduction is essential."

Entomologist Flaminia Catteruccia from Imperial College London said female mosquitoes mate only once in their lives.  If scientists could trick them into thinking they have successfully mated, they could continue to lay their eggs without knowing they have not been fertilized.

"You [could] in principle release large numbers of sterile males over many generations"¦ and eventually all the females will have mated with the sterile males and"¦you can really reduce the number of mosquitoes," Catteruccia told BBC.

This would reduce the number of hatching mosquitoes and could eradicate what many say is the single most dangerous insect species for mankind.

However, Catteruccia said this is only a proof of principle and the team could not create enough spermless males to flood wild populations to affect mosquito population.

She said knowing that females do not notice whether they are receiving sperm or not is still an important step though.

The research was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).


Image Caption: Anopheles albimanus mosquito feeding on a human arm. Credit: CDC


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