New mosquito mating find key weapon in fight against Zika

Washington: Until there’s a vaccine or treatment for the Zika virus, the effective way to control its spread is to change the mating system of the mosquitoes that carry it, according to a recent study.

The Cornell research found that genetic cues from male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, passed on during sex, affect which genes are turned on or off in a female’s reproductive tract post-mating, including genes related to blood feeding, egg development and immune defense.

The researchers believe such processes provide information that could be exploited to fight mosquito-borne diseases, such as dengue fever, chikungunya and Zika virus.

Co-author Laura Harrington said that the researchers have two main goals; the first is to understand the basic biology of the mosquito mating system and the second is to try to understand it in a way that we can develop novel strategies for controlling the mosquito, adding “We are focusing on reproduction because we see it as the Achilles heel of the mosquito.”

In this study, the researchers used sequencing to identify changes in RNA populations in the lower reproductive tract of female mosquitoes in response to mating. RNA is the chemical messenger by which the information in genes is translated into protein.

The researchers hope to uncover a molecule critical for female fertility; scientists could engineer inhibitors of this molecule, that could then be used to block a female’s ability to produce fertile eggs or that prevent eggs from traveling through the oviduct.

“We can either genetically engineer males to not induce this specific molecule, or we can create a smart insecticide that binds with the molecule and makes it inaccessible to the female,” Harrington said.

Such a “smart insecticide” could target mosquitoes without affecting other insects, co-author Mariana Wolfner added.

The study appears in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. (ANI)