There are several ways to protect yourself from mosquito bites, but one that crosses no one’s mind is to use gene editing to remove two out of the five light receptors in the eyes’ of the mosquito.
A research team at UC Santa Barbara set out to discover how female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes recognize humans visually. Most studies conducted on how mosquitoes find their prey focused on CO2, temperature and odor detection, while leaving the question of the visual mechanism unanswered.
Mosquitoes have low resolution vision and their eyes are quite sensitive. A female Ae. aegypti will first detect plumes of CO2 emanating from a mammal, which sends it into a frenzy looking for a host. This involves flying towards the source of the plume, and then visually detecting dark coloration. The team of researchers took advantage of the latter stage of prey detection in mosquitoes by using two spots – a white spot for control, and a black spot representing an animal host.
The researchers then looked at the mosquito’s genome in order to detect the proteins that are responsible for its vision. There were five in total, and using CRISPR/Cas9, the research team started to knock out these receptors one by one to find out which protein does what. It is only when they knocked out two photoreceptors at the same time, the Op1 and Op2 receptors, that they noticed that the mosquito would no longer fly towards the black spot.
However, it was important to make sure that they did not just blind the mosquito completely, so they set up a series of tests using light in order to find out if the mosquitoes could still see. As it turned out, they indeed could see in general, but they could no longer perceive dark colors.
This is an important finding, because many blood-sucking insects use vision to detect their prey. If this genetic trait could be passed down into general wild populations, dangerous insect bites could be reduced across the world.
However, until we are able to knock out the ability of mosquitoes to spot us, we will need to rely on good old insecticide and other traditional control methods. If you have a mosquito infestation on your property, we can help you get rid of it. Contact us today to set up a pest control appointment or if you have any questions about mosquito control.