Jessica Sieff | January 1, 2018
Mosquito bites can be an itchy nuisance but they can also be deadly. Diseases such as malaria, Dengue fever and West Nile virus can spread with a single bite.
Understanding the genetic variation — identifying those genes that differentiate biters from non-biters — is the first step toward discovering new approaches to mitigating a mosquito’s tendency to bite, while still allowing populations to reproduce and survive in their environments.
According to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers have taken a first step in identifying gene variation in biting and non-biting mosquitoes.
“Populations of some mosquitos vary in their propensity to bite,” said Michael Pfrender, director of the Genomics & Bioinformatics Core Facility at the University of Notre Dame, which processed the genetic data for the study, and a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and at the Eck Institute for Global Health. “As soon as you have that variation you can exaggerate it through selection experiments.”
Experiments led by researchers at the University of Oregon, focused on Wyeomyia smithii, known as the pitcher plant mosquito. Out of 21,618 genes, the team isolated 1,380 which they found to be directly related to biting and non-biting. Of those genes, 902 were identified as relating to biting and blood-feeding, and 478 were linked to non-biters.
“By leveraging variation in the tendency to bite within and between populations of this mosquito, we are able to identify a set of genetic pathways associated with non-biting,” Pfrender said. “This study lays the groundwork to identify key regulators to these pathways that may ultimately provide tractable solutions.”
The pitcher plant mosquito has been of particular interest to researchers for some time. It is unique in that it is the only species to have both biters and non-biters — in southern populations of the species, the females bite while northern populations are non-biters.