Representational Image

(CDC/ James Gathany)

It’s a particularly chilly November night, and you’re all snuggled up in your blanket — sound asleep and snoring away to glory. Then, you hear a faint buzz by your ear, prompting you to twitch in annoyance. But the buzzing sound keeps getting louder and louder until you can no longer ignore it and your eyes snap open. Just like that, your peaceful slumber is disrupted because of a pesky mosquito.

Mosquitoes can range from mildly annoying, like in the scenario described above, to extremely dangerous because of the fact that they carry disease-causing pathogens. And India’s tropical climate, long monsoons accompanied by the less than sanitary conditions make it the ideal breeding ground for these insects.

However, the spread of mosquito-borne diseases like dengue and malaria is usually observed during the monsoonal months. This is followed by a dip in cases thanks to the onset of winter, as the colder temperatures are not conducive to mosquito breeding.

So it is concerning that many parts of the country, including Kerala, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, continue to battle dengue cases well into November.

While state governments are implementing measures like fogging to curb the spread of the disease, mosquitoes have become immune to such insecticides, and these chemicals are also bad for the environment. Hence researchers are always on the lookout for new and improved methods of mosquito population control.

Now, a team of Japanese researchers from Nagoya University decided to see if they could tackle the problem at the very root. They have successfully developed a new technique that wouldn’t allow the female and male mosquitoes to breed by using the same buzzing noise that has been the cause of many sleepless nights!

Playing Anti-Cupid

Female mosquitoes create this high-pitched buzzing as they fly around, seeking sources of blood. And male mosquitoes specifically listen for this characteristic noise using their antenna-like ears that vibrate at the same frequency as the female mosquito’s wings.

So if a female were to fly by, the male’s ears would detect this frequency and resonate, sending a signal to their brain that helps them identify a potential mate.

What the researchers did was that they altered the frequency at which male mosquitoes listen and made them go “out of tune” to see if this influenced the mosquito’s mating behaviour.

They started off by identifying the involvement of the major neurotransmitter serotonin in the auditory system of the insect since it influences a wide range of behaviours in various animals.

Then, they fed the mosquitoes glucose laced with a serotonin-inhibiting compound and noticed that both the range of frequencies the mosquitoes responded to and their response itself was reduced.

In the future, developing a potential auditory-based “birth control” for mosquitoes will involve zeroing in on the receptors responsible for tuning their ears to enable researchers to administer targeted compounds to disrupt mating behaviour.

The findings of this study have been detailed in Frontiers in Physiology and can be accessed here.


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