By mapping a specialized sensory organ that the malaria mosquito uses to zero in on its human prey, an international team of researchers has taken an important step toward developing new and improved repellants and attractants that can be used to reduce the threat of malaria, generally considered the most prevalent life-threatening disease in the world.
The sensory organ is the maxillary palp. It is one of three structures extending from the mosquitos head that together provide it with its sense of smell and taste. The other two are the feathery antennae that serve as general-purpose olfactory organs and respond to a wide range of different chemicals and the proboscis that contains sensors designed for close-in odor and taste detection.
The detailed map of the maxillary palp, which was published online in the journal Current Biology on Aug. 30, has determined that it contains a unique array of highly specialized receptor cells that detect carbon dioxide and octenol, key chemical signals that the insects use to find human prey.
These receptors are highly sensitive, which suggests that the maxillary palps may serve as the malaria mosquitos long-range detection system, says Tan Lu, a graduate student at Vanderbilt who is the papers first author.
We havent proven it yet, but the implication is that if you took away the maxillary palp the mosquito would not do nearly as well at finding human prey, adds Laurence J. Zwiebel, professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt, who headed the study.
The research was performed by collaborators from Vanderbilt, Yale and Wageningen University in the Netherlands. They are part of a team that also includes researchers from the Ifakara Health Research and Development Centre in Tanzania and the Medical Research Council Laboratories in the Gambia that is funded by a grant from the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health through the Grand Challenges to Global Health Initiative in 2005 to develop a
|Contact: David F. Salisbury|