To Curb Malaria, These Mosquitoes Shoot Blanks

By giving male mosquitoes a case of intense infertility (and counting on the females to not notice anything, um, missing from the experience), scientists hope they can prevent a second generation of bugs from spreading malaria.


For decades now, scientists have been fighting insect-borne plant and
human diseases by trying to stop mosquitoes from breeding. They do this by blasting male mosquitoes with controlled amounts of radiation
and releasing them into the wild. The radiation sterilizes the males by
damaging their sperm, which decreases number of next-generation spawn in
the population. Now scientists have found away to not just damage a male mosquito’s sperm, but to do away with it entirely, fooling females with legions of genetically modified spermless males.

Researchers at Imperial College modified male mosquitoes so they
wouldn’t produce sperm, and introduced them to female mosquitoes. Some
female insects, like mosquitoes and fruit flies, only mate once, and the
potential success of such a technique as population control would hinge
on the female mosquitoes not noticing anything was amiss with their sperm-less partners.

to the study, female mosquitoes behaved normally, and went about their
usual business of getting it on, laying (unfertilized) eggs, and then losing interest in mosquito males
after that, promising behavioral details if this method were to be
taken seriously as a malaria control technique.


The war on malaria has already turned up some pretty left-field ideas for mosquito
crowd control, including Nathan Myhrvold’s Weapon of Mosquito
, which detected and fried mosquitoes by identifying the
audio frequency of their wings. Earlier this year, scientists created a
genetically modified malaria-fighting mosquito, which would pass on the
fighting spirit to their offspring, the last of a string of wildly
creative ideas to curb the spread of the essentially treatable disease. Neither of those ideas have yet to make a real dent in the spread of malaria. Will these new, sad, spermless males do the trick?

Luke Alphey, a mosquito expert who works on the dengue-spreading mosquito, warns that over time, says there’s a danger that the females could get wise to the spermless males, and eventually change their behavior. If this happened, the flighty females could decide to mate again with a more productive partner, increasing the probability that they’d mate with a wild, sperm-filled male and make mosquito babies to pass on more malaria.

[Image: Flickr user wild_turkey5300]