Mosquitoes can’t spot a spermless mate
23 September 2011
Research authored by Imperial scientists, and published in August in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has shown that a female mosquito cannot tell if the male that she has mated with is fertile or ‘spermless’ and unable to fertilise her eggs. This finding could help scientists in their mission to prevent the spread of malaria by interfering with the mosquitoes’ ability to reproduce.
Malaria is a debilitating disease that affects more than 300 million people, and kills nearly 800,000 every year. This new study focuses on the species of mosquito primarily responsible for the transmission of malaria in Africa, Anopheles gambiae.
The results lend support to the idea that in the future it will be possible to control the size of the malaria-carrying mosquito population by introducing a genetic change that makes the males sterile. Such a method would rely on females mating unknowingly with such modified males and failing to produce any offspring.
Lead author of the study, Dr Flaminia Catteruccia (Life Sciences), said: “In the fight against malaria, many hope that the ability to genetically control the mosquito vector will one day be a key part of our armoury. In order for these currently theoretical control strategies to work, we need to make sure that the insects continue to mate as normal, unaware that we have interfered with their sexual mechanisms. This study strongly suggests that they cannot tell the difference between a fertile and a spermless mate.”
— Simon Levey, Communications and Development