Mosquito birth control to combat spread of malaria

mosquito birth control

Scientists are close to developing a method to prevent mosquitoes from reproducing, thus reducing the spread of malaria.

The worry of relocating to a malaria zone could become a thing of the past if researchers can perfect mosquito birth control. The male malaria mosquito has a unique mating habit of sealing its sperm inside the female with a “plug”. Using this information, researchers are looking for ways to inhibit the formation of the plug.

The anopheles mosquitoes are the carriers of the deadly disease which threatens 3 billion people, has infected more than 215 million and kills 655,000 annually. Scientists reported at the  National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, that they are searching for a compound that would inhibit the formation of the plug. They would use the technology to breed sterile males in captivity. These males would then be released to mate with wild females.

“Ideally, it would be a substance that could be fed to males, sterilizing them so that they mate but no offspring result. It’s a well-established biological insect-control technology called the sterile insect technique and has been used for decades,” explained Richard Baxter Ph.D, professor of chemistry at Yale.

The approach is used against tsetse flies in Africa that transmit sleeping sickness and can be effective against mosquitoes, which mate only once or twice in their lifetime. Male mosquitoes would be reared under controlled conditions, fed a transglutaminase inhibitor and released to mate with wild females, reducing the population without the use of insecticides.

As mosquitoes have adapted to more traditional forms of control and environmental concerns are raised about the spraying of insecticides, this method presents a new alternative.

“Mosquitoes are adapting to the traditional control measures,” warns Baxter. “They are becoming resistant to the commonly used insecticides such as DDT and pyrethroids, and they are avoiding bed nets by biting during the day and out-of-doors. The sterile insect technique moves us away from trying to deliver chemicals to female mosquitoes by spreading them around people. Instead, we feed a chemical to the male, and he finds the females for us.”