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Biting back: Research could lead to mosquitoes being susceptible to diseases they transmit
Date:5/17/2011

MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Mosquitoes are becoming more resistant to current pesticides. That's troubling to Kansas State University biologist Kristin Michel, as it means malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases will continue spreading. A recent grant from the National Institutes of Health may change all that.

Michel, an assistant professor of biology, is using the nearly $1.5 million grant for the four-year study, "The function(s) of serpin-2 in mosquito immunity and physiology." Findings from this investigation into the role of the serpin-2 molecule in Anopheles gambiae -- the African malaria mosquito -- could stop the transmission of malaria and other mosquito-spread diseases by making mosquitoes susceptible to the very diseases they transmit.

As principal investigator, Michel and her laboratory team are focusing on definitively understanding the role of serpin-2 in the mosquito's body. Serpins are a group of similarly structured proteins that can inhibit a group of enzymes that break down proteins called proteases. Serpin-2 controls certain proteases that create immunity against bacteria and fungi in the mosquito.

"Current insecticides used for controlling vector-borne diseases are chemicals that target an insect's nervous system," Michel said. "Because serpin-2 relates to a mosquito's immunity, it could act as a novel insecticide target."

Attacking this molecule could avoid or disrupt a response from the mosquito's immune system that would otherwise protect the insect, she said.

The idea for the research came from a previous project conducted by Michel and fellow Kansas State researchers. By removing serpin-2 from the mosquitoes' bodies, the researchers noticed melanization is affected. In insects melanin is used to encompass foreign objects that enter their body, like bacteria and parasites. This process prevents the insect's immune system from constantly fighting the foreign body. It also causes pseudo-tumors
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Contact: Kristin Michel
kmichel@k-state.edu
785-532-0161
Kansas State University
Source:Eurekalert

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