Revealed -- Mosquito genes that could be controlling the spread of killer viruses

The genes that make up the immune system of the Aedes aegypti mosquito which transmits deadly viral diseases to humans have been identified in new research out today in Science.

The immune system of this mosquito is of great importance as scientists believe it plays a key role in controlling the transmission of viruses that cause yellow and dengue fevers diseases that infect over 50 million people worldwide every year.

This study is the first of its kind on the newly-sequenced genome of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is also published in this weeks Science. The researchers identified over 350 genes which are involved in the Aedes mosquitos immune system, and discovered that they evolve much faster than the rest of the genes in the genome. Identifying which of these key genes are implicated in the transmission of viral diseases is an area of future research that could lead to new ways of combating these diseases. One possibility would be to affect the activity of the genes and therefore help the mosquitoes fight off the viruses more effectively, preventing transmission to humans.

Imperial College scientists participating in this study established previously that other mosquitoes do have a robust immune system that can either allow or block transmission of malaria parasites. Further research will be needed to ascertain whether some of the newly discovered genes in Aedes may provide a similar defence mechanism that can fight the disease viruses.

Dr George Christophides of Imperials Division of Cell and Molecular Biology, senior author on the paper explains: Our study has revealed the genetic landscape made by parts of this mosquitos newly-sequenced genome which are involved with immunity. By working to understand as much as possible about these genes, and the way they interact with specific pathogens, we hope to gain a more complete understanding of the mechanisms by which a pathogen either survives inside the insect b

Contact: Danielle Reeves
Imperial College London

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