Changing Mosquito Gender

May 21, 2015

Undergraduate students Jessica Overcash and Mallory Brangan
Credit Virginia Tech

Scientists at Virginia Tech are one step closer to controlling a species of mosquito that carries deadly disease. It’s not a pesticide or repellant, it’s a gene that can literally change the gender of a mosquito from potentially deadly females to harmless males.

Sex matters in mosquitos, because it is females only which bite to nourish their young. That’s how they can spread disease.  Bio Chemistry Professor Jake Tu is part of the team that discovered the elusive gene called NIX, which can change female mosquitos and their offspring into males. 

“And so you’re reducing the number of females in the population. So in the end, this local population would potentially crash,” he says.

It’s believed that such a population crash would play a role in keeping the transgene as it’s called, from affecting other mosquito species. Identifying this gene is the first step in a long process before it can be tested outside the lab. The focus is on one mosquito species that has evolved to transmit disease called Aedes Aegypti. Brantley Hall is a graduate student working on the project.

Credit Virginia Tech

“We are really concerned about environment but don’t think it will cause too much environmental impact. And we definitely don’t propose completely eliminating Aedes Aegypti. That would be pretty infeasible on a global scale.  All we want to do is temporarily educe the population of Aedes Aegypti where it’s causing disease

The study by a team of researchers at Virginia Tech is published in the journal Science Express.