British scientists think that tinkering with the sex lives of mosquitoes could go a long way in helping put an end to the spread of malaria.
A study of Anopheles gambiae, the species of mosquito responsible for the transmission of the disease in Africa, revealed that these insects only mate twice in their lifetimes–what’s more, in order for a female to fertilize all her eggs during her lifetime, the sperm have to be secured in place. To do this, a male mosquito provides a gelatinous solid mass that acts as a plug to hold his sperm inside her.
Researchers from Imperial College London, who published the study in the journal PLoS Biology, are thinking that by interfering at this crucial point, they’ll be able to substantially decrease their populations and halt the spread of the potentially deadly disease that affects 40 percent of the world.
“Removing or interfering with the mating plug renders copulation ineffective,” Flaminia Catteruccia of Imperial’s life sciences department wrote in the study.
Catteruccia’s team analyzed the male mosquitoes and found the plug used during mating forms when an enzyme called transglutaminase interacts with proteins in seminal fluid. All the researchers had to do was knock out this enzyme in their test subjects and voila: no plug, no effective copulation, no baby mosquitoes.
No word on how this may affect other aspects of that ecosystem.