Deciphering the genetic basis of the mosquitos senses

The mosquito Anopheles gambiae is something of a gourmet. It feeds almost exclusively on human blood. Its preference for humans and its ability to seek them out, in fact, are what makes the tiny insect such a deadly "vector" for the spread of malaria, a disease that causes millions of deaths annually.

Now a team of researchers from Vanderbilt University, the University of Notre Dame and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have identified the genes that code for a special class of proteins that plays a critical role in almost every aspect of the insect's life cycle, including its ability to see, taste, touch, and smell.

"This is an important step forward in our ability to first understand the mosquitos' host preference and tracking system and then to interfere with it in a way that can save human lives in an economically feasible and environmentally benign fashion," says Laurence J. Zwiebel, assistant professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt University who led the study.

Writing in the October 4 issue of the journal Science, Zwiebel and his colleagues report the identification of a total of 276 genes in the Anopheles gambiae genome that provide the blueprints for proteins called G-protein-coupled receptors (GFCRs) that are instrumental elements in the mosquito's sensory systems, including those that it uses to find human prey.

The paper is part of a special issue of Science that reports the sequencing of the entire Anopheles genome. Concurrently, the journal Nature is announcing the sequencing of the genome of Plasmodium falciparum, the single-cell parasite carried by Anopheles that causes malaria. These two achievements are providing the impetus for a major new scientific assault on malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases. In particular, Zwiebel and his colleagues report finding 79 genes that appear to be involved in the mosquitoes' sense of smell and 72 involved in its sense of taste. Previous studies have shown that both o

Contact: David F. Salisbury
Vanderbilt University

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