Meddling with mosquitoes’ mating to halt malaria
17 February 2010
Stopping male mosquitoes from sealing their sperm inside females with a ‘mating plug’ could prevent mosquitoes from reproducing and offer a potential new way to combat malaria, say scientists publishing new results in PLoS Biology on 22 December.
The new study focuses on the species of mosquito primarily responsible for the transmission of malaria in Africa, known as Anopheles gambiae. These mosquitoes mate only once in their lifetime, which means that disrupting the reproductive process offers a good way of dramatically reducing populations of them in Africa.
When they mate, the male transfers sperm to the female and then afterwards transfers a coagulated mass of proteins and seminal fluids known as a mating plug. This plug is not found in any other species of mosquito and until now, very little has been known about what it is for, and the role it plays in An. gambiae reproduction.
We have shown that the male mating plug is not a simple barrier to insemination from rival males
Lead author of the study, Dr Flaminia Catteruccia (Life Sciences) explains the significance of their discovery: “We have shown that the male mating plug is not a simple barrier to insemination from rival males, as has been previously suggested. Instead, we discovered that the plug plays an important role in allowing the female to successfully store sperm in the correct way inside her and, as such, is vital for successful reproduction.
“Removing or interfering with the mating plug renders copulation ineffective. This discovery could be used to develop new ways of controlling populations of An. gambiae mosquitoes to limit the spread of malaria.”
—Danielle Reeves, Communications