OSB archive
OSB archive

Flightless females combat dengue

Pete Wilton

Using genetics to render female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes flightless could halt dengue fever in its tracks.

The finding is reported in a paper in this week's PNAS on work led by Luke Alphey of Oxford University's Department of Zoology and Oxford spin-out firm Oxitec.

We've previously reported on how the Oxford team investigated inserting a 'dominant lethal' gene into mosquitoes that, when passed on by males, would see the larvae die before they could develop and spread the disease.

As reported in BBC News Online and elsewhere the team's new approach targets females - whose bite is what actually passes on the infection that affects millions of people a year. Their work suggests that male mozzies can be genetically altered to carry a gene that limits wing growth in their female offspring - rendering their daughters flightless.

Not only does it stop these females from infecting humans but, as the researchers write in the paper: 'Flightless females also are effectively sterile, being unable to attract and mate males as courtship and mating depend on the wing oscillations 'song''.

Luke told BBC Online: 'The technology is completely species-specific, as the released males will mate only with females of the same species.'

'Another attractive feature of this method is that it's egalitarian - all people in the treated areas are equally protected, regardless of their wealth, power or education.'

The researchers believe their approach could be extended to other species of mosquito that spread human disease.

The research is reported in a paper, entitled 'Female-specific flightless phenotype for mosquito control', published online in PNAS this week.