Scientists turn deadly mosquitoes against their own offspring

A new field demonstration from Peru suggests that we might be able to co-opt adult mosquitoes into applying insecticides for us

Aedes aegypti

A new field demonstration from Peru suggests that we might be able to co-opt adult mosquitoes into applying insecticides for us, and that they are far more efficient at doing this than humans are.

Researchers from Rothamsted Research, working with the health authority in the Peruvian Amazon, have pioneered a new way of controlling the mosquito that carries the potentially deadly dengue virus. They forced adult Aedes aegypti mosquitoes to transfer insecticides to their own breeding sites, thereby killing any larvae developing there.

The juvenile stages of all mosquitoes develop in aquatic habitats. Emerging adults have to return there to lay their eggs and continue the life cycle. These habitats are key targets for mosquito and disease control campaigns but, because of the cryptic and myriad nature of potential breeding sites, their treatment with insecticides is usually difficult, time consuming, and expensive.

Scientists were able to achieve almost total coverage of the aquatic larval habitat by treating a small proportion of the area where adult mosquitoes rest with a safe, potent and persistent insecticide. This insecticide can be carried by adult mosquitoes but only kills juvenile stages. Amplification of the effect occurs because every adult mosquito completes several resting and egg-laying cycles during its lifetime. This results in multiple opportunities for contamination of the aquatic habitat.

The use of the adult mosquito as the transfer vehicle ensures that the larvicides are very accurately targeted: the more popular the breeding site, the greater the transfer of insecticide and the more effective the control.

The technique is truly novel, and could be implemented immediately. One of the researchers at the Ifakara Health Institute in Tanzania has developed a mathematical model of the process to explore how the Peruvian team might apply their technique to the mosquito species which carry malaria and filariasis.

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For further information, please contact:
Professor Angela Karp (comms@rothamsted.ac.uk), Tel: +44 (0) 1582 938 855

About Rothamsted Research

We are the longest running agricultural research station in the world, providing cutting-edge science and innovation for over 170 years. Our mission is to deliver the knowledge and new practices to increase crop productivity and quality and to develop environmentally sustainable solutions for food and energy production.

Our strength lies in the integrated, multidisciplinary approach to research in plant, insect and soil science.
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BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

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