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

By Joseph Castro | July 19, 2011 1:10 pm

spacing is important

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.

Reference: J. Isoe, J. Collins, H. Badgandi, W. A. Day, R. L. Miesfeld. PNAS Plus: Defects in coatomer protein I (COPI) transport cause blood feeding-induced mortality in Yellow Fever mosquitoes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2011; 108 (24): E211 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1102637108

Image: USDA

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine

    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).

    I would suggest trying some Marmite to take away the taste of the bitter pill.

  • Aimee

    That is a brutal and disgusting way to deal with mosquitos. How would you like it if you went to go get a nice bite to eat, and that happened to you? People really seem to have no mercy or sympathy with anything on this planet that isn’t cute and cuddly. I understand that mosquitos can carry disease, and are indeed rather frustrating, but I don’t think that should give us the right to do something like this to them. Are they not also here for a reason?

    And on a side note, in what world would a person think it’s alright to take a pill that has that kind of effect? Not just because of what it would do to the mosquito, but think what that could do to your body? We think we are so immune to all these disgusting chemicals and things we bring into ourselves on a daily basis, and then wonder why we keep getting cancer and all these diseases! Ugh. I can’t think about this anymore.

  • Richard

    Aimee, PETA is just as annoying as mosquitoes.. and no they are not here for any other purpose than to survive and reproduce like all other lifeforms. There is no other purpose to life. Mosquitoes are disease carrying parasites that feed on blood. Blood taken form someone with a disease that isn’t really curable yet is carried in the mosquitoes body, assuming it isn’t killed during the biting process. When that same mosquito bites a healthy person, there is a chance that someone else’s disease is spread to another who surely doesn’t deserve to have such a plight. Therefore, to solve the problem…. eradicate the mosquitoes. Most Naturalists and biologists state that the extinction of Mosquitoes will have no negative impact on the ecosystem anywhere, as most creatures that eat mosquitoes also eat other plentiful insects. I disagree with PETA’s apparent desire to destroy Human progress in the name of saving animals from Human progress because they cannot adapt and evolve sufficiently.. in point of fact, PETA, by doing what they do, makes evolution and adaptation of animals harder because they need the threats to their survival as a natural reason to evolve…. but I sense you don’t believe in Evolution, so arguing in favour of known fact against someone who isn’t a Humanist is a moot point. Anyway, have fun destroying the ecosystem by coddling animal life. If Humanists get our way, hopefully the coddling of animals will be controlled or made illegal because it’s a threat to their survival as it is… worse than Human expansion and development.

    On a side note, the scientists developing mosquito eradication techniques need to strongly consider the impact they will have on Human biology. Aimee DOES bring up a valid point on side-effects. If its going be genetic-based, then make sure it’s compatible with HAR-1 (Human Genome) and make sure there aren’t any serious risks of carcinogenic side-effects or the like. Think of Humans first. :)


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