Mosquitoes bit by birth control? Entomologist and team investigate the prospects

Courtesy of UCR Today.
Alexander Raikhel, a distinguished professor of entomology at UC Riverside, and his research team, have recently been awarded a five-year $2.8 million grant by The National Institutes of Health to investigate at a molecular level the hormones involved in mosquito reproduction

They hope to regulate and limit the numbers of the disease-spreading insects by manipulating their hormones which would interrupt their host-seeking behavior, and therefore their egg development, Raikhel told UCR Today.

“[We could] find an Achilles’ heel of [the mosquitoes’] reproduction and knock it down,” said Raikhel, an expert in the molecular biology of mosquitoes and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, in an interview with the Highlander.

According to the World Health Organization, about 2.5 billion people are at risk of contracting dengue fever, and the infection spreads to over 100 million people across the world each year. Yellow fever kills 30,000 and infects 200,000 people worldwide each year.

The culprit? Aedes aegypti, the species of mosquito Raikhel and his team hope to regulate.

Mosquitoes draw blood from vertebrates for energy to develop eggs, and in doing so transmit disease pathogens.

According to Raikhel, a “juvenile hormone,” unique to insects, is fundamental in the transformation of young female mosquitoes into adults, which then go out and feed, develop eggs and spread pathogens, UCR Today reported. It is the prospect of manipulating this hormone which drives Raikhel and his team, for growth of the insect is impeded with its absence.

In every cell of a mosquito lies a receptor for the juvenile hormone, but its nature remains a mystery, for it does not exist on the surface of the cell but within it, Raikhel told UCR Today.

But it is the goal of Raikhel and his team to unravel the receptor’s secrets and understand its structure and function, and, hopefully, block the juvenile hormone’s receptors.
“This hormone is crucial for egg development. If we can figure out how its levels can be manipulated so that egg development is prevented, we can reduce the number of mosquitoes,” stated Raikhel in an interview with UCR Today.

“Several levels of interception can be designed in the lab so that no egg development in mosquitoes results,” he told UCR Today.

Though the team is focused solely on Aedes aegypti, his methods may be transferable to other disease-spreading species.

According to UCR Today, Raikhel is a leading force in insect science and vector biology,
focusing on mosquito reproduction and immunity. He has authored or coauthored more than 160 research papers in international peer-reviewed scientific journals and books.

Members of the research team include: Tusar Saha, Zhen Zou, and Sang Woon Shin, who all work in Raikhel’s lab; and Thomas Girke, an associate professor of bioinformatics.

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