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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    UA research may stop mosquitos

    Although diseases carried by mosquitoes afflict the world every day, the mosquitoes might soon pay the price for a bite.

    After seven years of exploration into the metabolic pathways of mosquitoes, UA researchers have figured out how to turn the insect’s bite against itself, a measure meant to curb outbreaks of diseases such as malaria and West Nile virus around the globe.

    “”Mosquitoes are resistant to a lot of insecticides,”” said Roger Miesfeld, the research team’s project leader. “”Our approach is one way to decrease and take control of the mosquito population.””

    Research revealed that a certain kind of mosquito’s metabolic pathway has a complexity normally found in amphibians and certain kinds of fish.

    Because mosquitoes ingest large amounts of protein from a bite on a human, the pathway must expel toxic nitrogen found in the blood protein to aid in digestion, said Patricia Scaraffia, a research team member.

    If the mosquito is unable to excrete this toxic nitrogen after a meal, it will die and be unable to pass on its diseases to future human hosts, she said.

    Now that research confirmed the mosquito’s dependence on toxic nitrogen, the project shifts into finding a molecule that inhibits the excretion process. Even after the molecule is identified, researchers must still find a way for the mosquito to ingest it, an issue that currently yields two main solutions.

    One is to incorporate the inhibitor into a spray, Miesfeld said. The other involves turning humans into death traps with a pill.

    If researchers can find a chemical that is both harmless to people and inhibits the toxic nitrogen excretion, a pill form of the inhibitor could be developed. Once ingested, the inhibitor would enter the blood stream and doom any mosquito that bites the human, he said.

    While the public release of an inhibitor pill is a definite possibility, even in the near future a release date is difficult to estimate.

    For such a pill to be developed, it would take mass cooperation by scientists to determine various possible effects of the chemicals on other animal species and the environment, said Guoli Zhou, a research team member.

    Scientists who go forward using the team’s research must ensure the inhibitor is not toxic to other animal species, Zhou said. Such toxicity could cause food chains to break and negatively affect many species.

    With mosquito diseases rapidly spreading across not only underdeveloped countries but also the United States, the findings are crucial to understanding mosquitoes’ metabolisms, as well as finding a way to do more than just curb the mosquito population, Scaraffia said.

    “”(The project) represents only a small contribution,”” she said. “”This is important because it might provide a means to control diseases that affect millions of people.””

    If the project works, it will yield financial and humanitarian benefits.

    “”The cost of public health will be reduced to a large extent,”” Zhou said. “”The quality of human life in both physical and psychological aspects will be obviously improved.””

    The team’s research was made possible by a grant from the National Institutes of Health in 2001. The grant was renewed in 2006 and extends into 2011.

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