In recent years, cases of malaria and other mosquito-related diseases have experienced a steady decrease, thanks to various efforts to control mosquito populations. However, just like other pests that humanity has tried to control, mosquitoes are fighting back. Two years ago, sixty countries found mosquitoes resistant to at least one available insecticide. A recent publication suggests a new solution that sounds like it was pulled from a science-fiction novel. We could infect mosquitoes with a fungus genetically engineered to produce arachnid toxins.
Scientists chose spider and scorpion toxins because they attack mosquito physiology the same way as insecticides. To infect the mosquitoes with the fungus, a landing pad was covered with fungal spores, which were collected by the bugs’ legs. Infected groups (both insecticide-resistant and -susceptible) were then monitored for 14 days. The researchers found that not only did the infected mosquitoes die far sooner than their healthy counterparts, but that they also had a decreased desire to feed in the days following exposure. The fungus did not affect reproduction levels.
One important feature of insecticides is determining their effect on non-target species. The researchers tested the effect of fungal exposure on honeybees and found that the bees picked up 58% fewer spores, lived normal lifespans, and generally seemed unaffected.
These results are promising. Before moving forward with this method, scientists must research if or how quickly mosquitoes might develop a resistance to these fungi. Given that this is an adaptable biological element rather than an unmalleable chemical, it’s possible the fungi could adapt to any resistance the mosquitoes develop.
Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Kadeem Gilbert, a graduate student in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology department at Harvard, for his comments on this article. Kadeem works in the Pierce Lab and studies the evolution and ecology of tropical pitcher plants and their interactions with insects and microbes.
Managing correspondent: Zane Wolf
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Article: Improve efficacy of an arthropod toxin expressing fungus against insecticide-resistant malaria-vector mosquitoes – Scientific Reports
Popular Press Articles: Mosquito-killing fungi engineered with spider and scorpion toxins could help fight malaria – Phys.org