Researchers have new insight into the sex lives of the much-maligned mosquitoes that are responsible for the vast majority of malaria deaths, according to a report published online on December 31st in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication. In finding a partner of the right species type, male and female mosquitoes depend on their ability to "sing" in perfect harmony. Those tones are produced and varied based on the frequency of their wing beats in flight.
"Everyone must be familiar with the maddening whine a mosquito makes as it hones in for a bite," said Gabriella Gibson of the University of Greenwich at Medway. "There's no doubt many of us have wondered why it makes its presence so obvioussurely, after all of these centuries of blood-feeding, selection should have favored a more stealthy approach that would leave mosquitoes less vulnerable to the defensive attacks of its unsettled host. Our findings suggest that mosquitoes rely on the sounds they make to attract a mate of the right species, a behavior that is far more vulnerable to selection than avoiding the risk of being squashed by the rare host that is still awake at feeding time."
The Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes in fact include a considerable amount of genetic diversity, representing a complex of seven species and several chromosomal forms. And that diversity comes with real consequences for humans, explained Gibson and Ian Russell of the University of Sussex. The complexity of malaria epidemiology and control is due in part to the mosquito's remarkable genetic plasticity, enabling its adaptation to a widening range of human-influenced habitats.
The new results help to explain how those different mosquito forms manage to reproductively isolate themselves and maintain that genetic diversity, even while some, including the "M" and "S" forms found in Burkina Faso that were the subject of the current study, can be found traveling together in the very same swarms.
|Contact: Cathleen Genova|