Understanding the sex life of a mosquito may reveal the key to controlling diseases such West Nile virus and dengue fever, a new study has said.
Researchers at Cornell University have uncovered a chemical ballet that takes place between aedes aegypti mosquitoes during sex. The study found that more than 100 proteins in male sperm permanently alter a female's tendencies to feed, produce eggs and mate.
The paper's lead author, Laura Sirot, a research associate at Cornell, did the work in the labs of co-authors Mariana Wolfner, professor of molecular biology and genetics, and Laura Harrington, associate professor of entomology.
While previous research by this team identified some reproductive proteins produced in male mosquitoes, "this is the first study to identify the male proteins that are actually transferred to the female" during mating, said Wolfner.
By isolating these proteins, researchers said they might one day develop a birth control approach for female mosquitoes that spread the dengue, yellow fever and West Nile viruses. There is currently no effective treatment for dengue fever, a potentially lethal infection that affects millions of people each year.
The researchers found 93 seminal fluid proteins and 52 sperm proteins in the females. Eventually, researchers might be able to use these proteins to develop innovative mosquito control strategies, such as reducing egg production and curbing the female's appetite for blood, which could ultimately reduce the spread of mosquito-borne, life-threatening illnesses.
"This is an exciting new avenue for identifying ultimate targets to reduce mosquito vector populationsUltimately, we plan to select the most promising candidate proteins as chemical targets or as a focus for the development of other methods for vector control," said Harrington.
Next, the team will determine which proteins have major effects on the female's physiology. In the lab, they plan to generate mosquitoes that fail to make each of these proteins, mate those males with females and observe whether the females' responses are perturbed.
The study has been published in the open-access journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases.