Mosquito bites have many times proved fatal for human beings. But if researchers from The University of Arizona in Tucson have their way, one-day mosquito bites may prove deadly to the mosquitoes as well.
The study, led by 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 Centre, 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.
"Our goal is to turn the female mosquito's blood meal into the last meal she ever eats," Miesfeld said.
The researchers 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 research team also envisages developing an oral insecticide, a mosquito-slaying pill that members of a community with a high instance of, for example, 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. 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," Miesfeld said.
The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.