Aedes aegypti female mosquito
sucking blood from a man's arm
"Our goal is to turn the female mosquito's blood meal into the last meal she ever eats," said project leader Roger L. Miesfeld, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics in UA's College of Science and a member of BIO5 and the Arizona Cancer Center.
These researchers have discovered that one particular mosquito species, Aedes aegypti, has a surprisingly complex metabolic pathway, one that requires its members to excrete toxic nitrogen after gorging on human blood. If the mosquitoes fail to do so, they'll also fail to lay eggs--and will likely sicken and die.
Miesfeld and his colleagues are seeking a molecule that is harmless to humans, but will gum up the works of mosquito metabolism, forcing the mosquitoes to hang onto the nitrogen. Such a molecule would kill both the mosquitoes and their would-be progeny--thus slowing the spread of disease.
Once found, this molecule--and similar molecules aimed at other mosquito species--could be developed into an insecticide and sprayed in places where mosquitoes congregate, such as around water and on mosquito netting.
The researchers also envision developing an oral insecticide--a mosquito-slaying pill that members of a community with a high instance of, say, yellow fever or malaria might take to reduce the mosquito population. The pill wouldn't be a vaccine; if people who took it were later bitten by a disease-carrying mosquito, they would still become infected. However, the mosquito would ingest the insecticide along with the blood, causing her to bear fewer young and possibly die before she could bite anyone else.
"The whole community would essentially become one big mosquito trap," Miesfeld said. Over time, mosquito populations and disease rates would both decline. "It would be a group effort that in the long run could have a huge impact."
In a world where both mosquitoes and the diseases they carry are becoming increasingly resistant to known insecticides and medicines, finding new ways to fight them is crucial.
"This would be one more weapon in our arsenal against diseases that kill millions of people a year," Miesfeld said.
from a news release of the Univeristy of Arizona, Jan 16, 2008
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