Mosquito DNA sequence discovered in the fight against deadly viruses

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Mosquito DNA sequence discovered in the fight against deadly viruses

New research conducted at Oxford Brookes has increased our understanding of the genetic makeup of mosquitos and could help tackle the global issue of the insect infecting tens of millions of people each year.

Dr Andrew Jones, Senior Lecturer in Molecular Biology and Genomics at Oxford Brookes University, has worked with an international team of experts to provide the DNA sequence of Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that spreads dengue fever and the Zika virus.

Published in Nature, this study on the Aedes genome will enable major advances in studying mosquito biology. Part of the research involved studying how female mosquitoes are attracted to humans to obtain a blood meal and how mosquitoes detoxify foreign compounds, which leads to insecticide resistance. 

Pyrethroid insecticides are used to combat mosquitoes including Aedes aegypti, and emerging resistance to these compounds is a global problem.

Dr Andrew Jones is a co-author of the two and a half year study along with Oxford Brookes Masters student Vidya Ramasamy. The paper formed her research project on the Medical Genetics and Genomics course at the University.

They identified receptors in the Aedes genome that play important roles in the nervous system and are also targets of insecticides, including neonicotinoids and fipronil, an active ingredient of products commonly used to protect household pets against fleas and lice.

Dr Jones commented on the benefits of the research: “Characterising insecticide target genes in mosquito DNA as well as those in genomes of other species, will highlight differences that perhaps can be exploited in developing improved insecticides that act specifically on carriers of disease, whilst sparing non-target organisms such as bees.” 

Female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes infect over 400 million people each year with dangerous viral pathogens including dengue, yellow fever, Zika, and chikungunya.
Progress in understanding mosquito biology and developing tools to fight them has been slowed by the lack of a high-quality genome information. 

Accurate and complete genome data is required to understand unique aspects of mosquito biology and to develop control strategies to reduce their capacity to spread pathogens.

The detailed work with an international team has already allowed the opportunity to carry out a number of experiments that were previously impossible.

You can read more about the study “Improved reference genome of Aedes aegypti informs arbovirus vector control” in Nature.

Further information on Oxford Brookes’ Department of Biological and Medical Sciences is available on the University’s website. 

Find out more about the work of Dr Andrew Jones on his Staff Profile page.