Genetically-altered mosquitoes shun humans
The battle against mosquitoes ramps up over the summer and most of us wish for a better way to avoid their bites than coating ourselves with repellent. Now scientists at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the Rockefeller University in New York, may have come up with a new weapon. They’ve found that my altering a single gene in the pests, they were able to turn off the insect’s preference for the smell of humans. This provides great promise in not only genetically modifying the bug, but also in helping scientists better understand why mosquitoes are attracted to humans over other animals
In 2007, scientists first announced that they had completed the gene sequencing for the mosquito that carries dengue and yellow fever. From there, the Rockefeller University team turned to targeting the orco gene in the bugs, injecting chemicals that alter specific gene sequences in mosquito embryos. That effectively deactivated the brain cells linked to sensing odors as the insects matured. Those mosquitoes did not show a preference for humans, which normally is triggered by the presence of carbon dioxide.
While it may seem a breakthrough for avoiding bug bites, this discovery will likely have a bigger impact in preventing mosquito-borne diseases, such as yellow and dengue fever. If scientists can understand why mosquitoes are attracted to humans, they can more easily target ways to stop disease.