A team of researchers reported this week that they had found a gender-switching gene in mosquitoes that allowed them to change the sex of mosquito embryos from female to male.
Scientists claim that their finding may soon become a major breakthrough that would lead to the eradication of dengue fever, Zika fever, malaria and other mosquito-borne tropical diseases. But the new achievement needs to overcome a series of technical hurdles before the method can be used in the wild.
The newly found technique to force female mosquitoes to grow male genitalia may be the best answer to modern day exotic diseases that affect more than 100 million people worldwide. Researchers explained that only females transmit the mosquito-borne diseases because they are the only one who bite.
Scientists hope that their new tactics may contribute to a significant decline in mosquito populations since males will have a serious problem in finding a female to breed.
The experiment was conducted by a team of U.S. and Chinese researchers. A review on the latest findings was published a few days ago in the journal Science Express. Authors deemed the new method “a potentially effective measure” to tackle the incidence of mosquito-borne diseases.
The research team explained that finding the gene responsible for sex-change in mosquitoes was like looking for a needle in a haystack. The gene, now dubbed Nix, was eventually located in an area of the genome that had many similar sequences. But with help from sharper genetic technology they were able to identify the sex-switching gene.
Soon afterward, researchers inserted the Nix gene into a new generation of mosquito embryos. They were thrilled to learn that more than 60 percent of the females were born with male sexual organs.
Cameron Webb from the Department of Medical Entomology at Westmead Hospital in Sydney, Australia, said that the technique cannot be used in the wild yet. He explained that a method developed under strict laboratory conditions was hard to copy in a natural environment.
The researcher also said that the newly found gene which exists only in male mosquitoes cannot be artificially injected in wild insects’ embryos as researchers did in their lab.
Dr. Webb believes that though the technique has great potential it won’t be “a silver bullet” to solve all problems.
However attempts to genetically tweak mosquitoes to fight exotic plagues are not new. Other experiments have focused on cutting down the insects’ lifespan or make them less likely to carry a disease.
Image Source: Quintana Roo Grafico
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