March 3, 2010

Study Uncovers Potential Mosquito Population Control Method

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Swarms of mosquitoes may be a season away, but Cornell researchers are trying to unlock a new method of controlling mosquito reproduction that could help dengue fever victims in developing countries as well as itchy students.

When feeding, a mosquito must urinate frequently to balance the rapid intake of blood. If it is unable to do this, it becomes weighed down and clumsy with its added weight, and there is a greater chance that it can be swatted by annoyed victims. By manipulating the renal system of the mosquito, researchers may be able to control its urination process, drastically reducing the number of disease-carrying bloodsuckers flying around everywhere from the Sahara to Seneca St.

“Mosquitos don’t actually blood feed until they are ready to reproduce,” said Li Wang ’10, an honor student in physiology. “Normally, they just feed on plants.”

For victims of dengue fever, the ability to control mosquito reproduction would make the difference between life and death. The disease, carried by mosquitoes, infects 50 – 100 million people annually and causes 22,000 deaths.

The research team was led by Peter Piermarini, a research associate in biomedical sciences whose research page on Google Sites notes his interest in “deciphering how mosquitoes produce urine, because it is vital to their survival after consuming a human blood meal.” Piermarini could not be reached for comment.

The team, which also included Laura Grogan, a 2007 participant in the Leadership Program for Veterinary Scholars, and Kenneth Lau ’08, a former research technician in the Department of Biomedical Sciences, experimented on the Aedes aegypti variety of mosquito. This variety is well known for carrying yellow and dengue fevers, which are especially deadly in nations with developing health systems.

Wang said that the team studied chloride bicarbonate anion exchangers, a type of protein found in the renal tubules of the mosquito that works to regulate pH, which is crucial to water balance in cells. Although the protein has been researched before, scientists did not know much about the role it played in mosquitoes.

“The protein is localized, we think we know what this protein might do,” Wang said, emphasizing that the group’s findings were putative. “In bio, you can’t really prove anything, you just keep going at it until you can see it’s legit.”

The group’s findings were published in the March 4 issue of the American Journal of Physiology.

The article originally stated that the researchers discovered a new method of mosquito population control, when in fact, they are researching a protein for the potential for population control. The Sun regrets this error.

Original Author: Brendan Doyle