Mosquitoes. These insects rarely inspire positive thoughts. If someone is lucky, mosquito bites only cause itchy discomfort. Otherwise, mosquito bites, like those from Aedes aegypti (a mosquito species found in tropical, subtropical, and temperate regions all over the globe), transmit deadly diseases, such as dengue, yellow fever, zika, and chikungunya. A recent study led by Azadeh Aryan, a research scientist at Virginia Tech, may provide a solution to these annoying and deadly mosquito bites. 

Only female mosquitoes bite humans and transmit diseases. In A. aegypti, the gender is determined by Nix, a gene in a specific DNA region, which acts like a switch. The presence of Nix makes a mosquito male and the absence of Nix makes a mosquito female. So, when Nix is introduced to the DNA of a female mosquito, by using a system that cuts and pastes Nix into different regions of the DNA, the female “transitions” into a male mosquito. In addition, all mosquitoes with the Nix gene born from a female and a converted male – children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so on- will be male.

The only problem with the converted male mosquitoes is that they cannot fly. If a male mosquito cannot fly, they cannot mate with a female mosquito in the wild, limiting the spread of Nix from a converted male. While this study has found the gene responsible for flight, additional research is needed to carefully create a converted male that can fly. Then, if all works well, this strategy could be combined with other strategies, like one that ensures the presence of Nix in all offspring 100% of the time (homing-based gene-drive strategy), and could greatly alleviate the mosquito problem.

Managing Correspondent: Jenny Zheng

Original article: Nix alone is sufficient to convert female Aedes aegypti into fertile males and myo-sex is needed for male flight PNAS

Press article: Converting female mosquitoes to non-biting males with implications for mosquito control phys.org

Image Credit: Pixabay

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