Magazine article Earth Island Journal

Blank Shot Bugs

Magazine article Earth Island Journal

Blank Shot Bugs

Article excerpt

European scientists working to stem the spread of malaria have come up with a unique solution--breeding mosquitoes that shoot blanks.

Researchers in the United Kingdom and Italy have been able to genetically modify male Anopheles mosquitoes so that they can't produce sperm. The bugs can still produce seminal fluid, so mating rituals go on per usual, but the fruit of the coupling are sterile eggs that don't hatch. The researchers' findings were published in a recent issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"If mosquitoes [don't] produce any progeny.., the number of mosquitoes in the wild will be reduced, eventually reducing the chances of malaria transmission," says entomologist Flaminia Catteruccia, of the Imperial College in London, who coauthored the study.

Female mosquitoes mate only once in their lives and store their mates' sperm, using it to fertilize their entire life's worth of eggs. If scientists can trick them into thinking that they have successfully mated, they will continue to lay their eggs without knowing that they have not been fertilized.

Of course, genetically manipulating bugs raises troubling questions about meddling with biological processes and the potential negative impacts on surrounding ecosystems, especially insects and animals that rely on mosquitoes for food. Scientists working on these various methods hope they will help reduce disease rates without causing harm to the environment. Or at least that they will cause less harm than insecticides.

Though there are thousands of mosquito species, only a handful of them can transmit malaria, Catteruccia says. …

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