Sunday, December 27, 2009

Meddling with sex

Your mother may have told you that it's not nice to meddle in the business of others (especially when it's 'nasty business'), but when it comes to mosquitoes, meddling may offer very nice results. Imperial College recently released a report, entitled: "Meddling in mosquitoes' sex lives could stop the spread of malaria", revealing how a particular species of Anopheles gambiae has an easily disrupted sexual process, which when interrupted will prevent that mosquito from breeding.

"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" (Reeves). Prior to the release of this study, the purpose of this mating plug was misunderstood. Unlike similar substances in other species, the "male mating plug is not a simple barrier to insemination from rival males" (Imperial). Instead it is "essential for ensuring that sperm is correctly retained in the female's sperm storage organ, from where she can fertilise eggs over the course of her lifetime. Without the mating plug, sperm is not stored correctly, and fertilisation cannot occur" (Reeves).

"In Imperial's mosquito labs, the scientists showed it was possible to prevent the formation of the plug in males, and that this stopped them successfully reproducing with females" (Imperial). "In the future", researchers may "develop an inhibitor that prevents the coagulating enzyme doing its job inside male An. gambiae mosquitoes in such a way that can be deployed easily in the field -- for example in the form of a spray as it is done with insecticides". In this way, "we could effectively induce sterility in female mosquitoes in the wild. This could provide a new way of limiting the population of this species of mosquito, and could be one more weapon in the arsenal against malaria" (Reeves).


Imperial College London. "Meddling in Mosquitoes' Sex Lives Could Help Stop the Spread of Malaria." ScienceDaily 22 December 2009. 27 December 2009 .
Reeves, Danielle. "Meddling in Mosquitoes' Sex Lives Could Help Stop the Spread of Malaria." Imperial College London.

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