Developmental and Molecular Biology of Disease Vector Arthropods
Stopping Malaria in its Tracks
Mosquitoes carry malaria, West Nile virus, Dengue fever and a variety of other serious diseases. Forty-one percent of the world’s population lives in areas where malaria is transmitted and 350-500 million cases of malaria occur worldwide each year. In Africa alone, each year, malaria is responsible for over 2,700 deaths per day, or 2 deaths per minute.
Part of the strategy to eliminate or reduce the incidence of these diseases is to develop environmentally safe treatments that will target mosquitoes selectively, without harming humans, livestock and other insects, particularly agriculturally important species such as bees. For this purpose, one very attractive feature of mosquitoes is that their larvae rely on alkaline digestive fluids to break down food in their digestive systems. However, almost all other animals use acidic digestive fluids.
What if… we were able to develop new generations of insecticides that are able to target the alkaline conditions of the mosquito larvae digestive system? These new insecticides would kill mosquito larvae but leave other insects, fish and humans unaffected.
The mosquito larva is transparent, allowing us to visualize the entire digestive system in the whole animal. The pink area indicates the alkaline section of the gut where digestion takes place.
As part of this effort to control mosquitoes, my lab is trying to understand how the mosquito larva is able to make its digestive system so extremely alkaline, and to use this information to identify mosquito-specific molecules that could be used in new generations of mosquitocides to selectively kill mosquito larvae. Think of what this would mean for the control of malaria and the many other diseases carried by this most dangerous of insects.