Scientists Propose New Mosquito “Birth Control” That Targets Eggshells To Lessen Spread Of Disease

The team have hatched a new strategy to possibly lessen the scourge of mosquito-borne diseases. khlungcenter/Shutterstock

Mosquitoes are one of the deadliest creatures in the world. If we want to wipe out their blood-sucking buzz, perhaps some tiny-sized “birth control” is in order. In this case, that means wiping out a protein key to the formation of their delicate eggshells.

Female mosquitoes are the vectors of diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, and Zika – they feed on blood to produce eggs, which are covered in a protective shell. Tens of millions of people worldwide suffer from diseases transmitted by the insects, with millions of deaths each year, according to the World Health Organization. In a study published in PLOS Biology, researchers have conceived of a potential new route to an insecticide.

"Our goal is to help alleviate human suffering in areas of the world where mosquitoes are transmitting human pathogens," team lead Roger Miesfeld, University of Arizona (UA) professor of chemistry and biochemistry, told IFLScience.

In the lab, the UA team used an artificial glass feeder to nourish the female insects on expired human blood donated by the American Red Cross. Only the fully engorged mosquitoes were used in the study, with the females capable of laying around 100 eggs three days after such a feast.

The team discovered that a certain protein, which they aptly named Eggshell Organizing Factor 1 (EOF-1), is critical to the development of eggshells in Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. When they blocked the activity of this protein, it resulted in nearly 100 percent of females laying nonviable eggs due to a faulty eggshell layer. 

More than 3,500 mosquitoes species exist, but only a few affect our health. The team made sure to identify genes unique to mosquitoes and not to loosely related insects such as honeybees. However, an RNAi injection typically only lasts for one full egg-laying cycle, but that didn't seem to be the case here. To the team’s surprise, the females could no longer produce viable eggs for the remainder of their life, even after three bountiful blood meals. 

The team proposes developing a small-molecule inhibitor drug to selectively target the EOF-1 protein in regions where mosquito-borne human diseases are prevalent. This strategy may lower the chance of harming other organisms.

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