Summertime often means mosquito season. Especially near bodies of water, the bloodsucking insects like to stay and come into contact with people. Not only do their bites itch terribly, they can also be very dangerous. In addition to native mosquito species, mosquitoes from tropical or Asian regions have increasingly settled in Central Europe and can transmit serious diseases such as Zika or West Nile virus. Scientists from the LOEWE Center for Translational Biodiversity Genomics (TBG) have now developed an innovative and environmentally friendly method to contain the further spread of dangerous mosquito species.
Controlling these invasive species is challenging on many levels. The larvae that develop in water cannot and must not be treated with pesticides. The release of genetically modified animals is opposed by the public. The LOEWE-TBG research team would therefore first like to use genetic analyses of water samples to find out where exactly the mosquitoes are spreading in the first place. To this end, a type of PCR test is to be developed that will provide reliable evidence of the presence of invasive species. In the second step, the new technology of so-called "RNA interference" will be used. “In this process, the mosquito larvae in the distribution area are provided with food that contains double-stranded ribonucleic acids, or RNAs for short. These important information and function carriers, which are found in every cell of living organisms, then unfold their effect via the larvae’s intestine and switch off some of their genes that are important for survival,” explains Miklós Bálint, Professor of Functional Environmental Genomics at Justus Liebig University Giessen and deputy spokesperson of the LOEWE Center. The advantages of this method: "The RNA molecules can be produced in such a way that they only act against the respective mosquito species and do not endanger other insect species or humans. Furthermore, no toxic residues are left in the environment during their degradation. And with this method, there will be no genetically modified mosquitoes capable of reproducing,” Bálint says.
The results were published in the journal Biotechnology Advances.