Earlier this week, we explored the issue of genetically modified mosquitoes in the fight against the Zika virus. In a nutshell, researchers have found a way to genetically alter the Aedes aegypti mosquito to prevent natural reproduction, in turn reducing the population of the species. While this method has not been widely tested yet, it seems to be a promising way to control the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is notoriously hard to eradicate.

A team of researchers at the Fralin Life Science Institute at Virginia Tech recently made a breakthrough in genetic research that could improve our ability to genetically modify mosquitoes to stop the spread of Zika and other mosquito-borne diseases.

These researchers have officially sequenced the Y chromosome of the Anopheles gambiae mosquito, which is the species that transmits malaria. The Y chromosome is what determines the sex and male fertility in mosquitoes.

Until now, the Y chromosome could not be definitively or fully sequenced. This discovery has the potential to greatly improve mosquito control strategies that rely on genetic modification to create more males than females or to create sterile females. As we’ve explained before, male mosquitoes don’t bite, and are therefore harmless to humans. Creating sterile females prevents the species from reproducing.

A recent article in ScienceDaily explains the Virginia Tech team’s findings and why these are so crucial.

“Thirteen years after the publication of a draft genome of the Anopheles gambiae mosquito, we’ve finally characterized its Y chromosome,” said co-author Zhijian Jake Tu, a professor of biochemistry in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a Fralin Life Science Institute affiliate. “This is one of the last pieces of the puzzle. Having the Y will help us figure out the genetic basis of male biology in future studies.”

The new information about the Y chromosome will facilitate efforts to reduce female mosquitoes or create sterile males–strategies of interest to research teams across the world.

“The Y chromosome had previously not been characterized because it mostly consists of repetitive DNA sequences that stump the algorithms used by computers to assemble the mosquito’s entire genetic make-up,” said co-author Brantley Hall of Christiansburg, Va., a doctoral student in the genetics, bioinformatics and computational biology program.

“We were able to get around this obstacle (at least partially) by using a new long single-molecule sequencing technology, a new bioinformatics algorithm specifically designed to identify Y sequences, and physical mapping of DNA directly to the Y chromosome,” said co-author Igor Sharakhov, an associate professor of entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a Fralin Life Science Institute affiliate. “Our study provides a long-awaited foundation for studying mosquito Y chromosome biology and evolution.”

“Our combined efforts have resulted in the most extensive characterization of Y chromosome to date in additional malaria vectors as well, which will help identify targeted vector control approaches for different species,” said co-author Atashi Sharma, a doctoral student in the department of entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

This research will likely prove to be indispensable as disease control experts develop and test new methods to prevent mosquito-borne illnesses. This particular study focuses on malaria prevention efforts, but these findings also have the potential to be applied to other species and diseases, including Zika.

As always, you should follow mosquito control guidelines to keep your family safe. Contact DC Mosquito Squad today to find out more about our effective treatment options that can keep your backyard protected from menacing mosquitoes.

Read an update on VA Tech mosquito research here: Virginia Tech Researchers Find Gene to Reduce Female Mosquito Populations