Researchers from the Imperial College London have a new strategy to combat malaria. The species of mosquito responsible for the spread of malaria in Africa, Anopheles gambiae, only mates once during its life. Putting a stop to their one shot at reproduction should slow down malaria transmission. Anopheles males deploy a glob of proteins and fluids known as a “mating plug” that is essential for ensuring sperm is correctly retained in the female’s sperm storage organ, from where she can fertilise eggs over the course of her lifetime [BBC News]. Without a mating plug, the sperm is not stored and the mosquitoes can’t reproduce. Simply put, the researchers want to prevent male mosquitoes from plugging in the wild.
Anopheles gambiae is the only known species of mosquito to use a mating plug. (However, mating plugs are found in other animals where they prevent multiple males from reproducing with a female. Plug checking mice in research laboratories is a right of passage for many graduate students.) In their research, written up in the journal PLoS Biology, scientists were able to alter the mosquitoes’ genes so that they could no longer form a plug, and thus were unable to reproduce. If this process could be developed for use in the field, perhaps in a spray form like an insecticide, it could “effectively induce sterility in female mosquitoes in the wild,” [study author Flaminia] Catteruccia wrote, offering potential as “one more weapon in the arsenal against malaria” [Reuters]. The WHO is optimistic that their increased funding efforts will produce more technologies similar to this one and that, hopefully, one of them will prove effective.
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