March 15, 2011
Laura Sirot, assistant professor of biology at The College of Wooster, checks on the progress of her mosquito colonies.
WOOSTER, Ohio — Now that winter has finally relinquished its icy grasp, Ohioans can turn their attention to warmer thoughts, like chirping birds, blooming flowers, floating butterflies…and pesky mosquitoes.
Fortunately, one local scientist has been keeping a watchful eye on this menacing insect, and her recent research may provide a foundation for other scientists to mitigate the impact of summer’s most unwelcome guest. Laura Sirot, assistant professor of biology at The College of Wooster, along with fellow researchers in the laboratories of Laura Harrington and Mariana Wolfner at Cornell University (where Sirot was a postdoctoral researcher in molecular biology and genetics for the past five years) and José Ribeiro at the National Institutes of Health, have identified 93 seminal fluid proteins and 52 sperm male-derived proteins, which may affect behavior and physiology of female mosquitoes of the species, Aedes aegypti. Results of their research, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health and USDA-HATCH, will be published in the March 15th edition of PLoS (Public Library of Science) Neglected Tropical Diseases, an open-access journal that can be viewed freely online.
Building on previous research, which indicated that the act of mating alters the reproductive behavior of female mosquitoes in such areas as egg production, feeding patterns, and receptivity to mating, Sirot and her colleagues are hoping to measure the effect of these proteins and how eliminating them might alter the behavior of the blood-sucking female (males don’t bite).
The study was conducted on yellow fever mosquitoes, which carry that virus as well as dengue (den-GAY) fever virus, which causes a potentially lethal infection that affects millions of humans annually. While these mosquitoes are not found in this region, they are related to the Asian Tiger Mosquito, which is present in Ohio and can transmit West Nile virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis (swelling of the brain) — both potentially life-threatening illnesses.
“What we have been able to do is identify the proteins that males transfer to the female,” says Sirot, who is in her first year as a member of the faculty at Wooster. “By distinguishing between male-derived and female-derived proteins within the female reproductive tract, we can begin to determine which male-derived proteins affect the behavior and physiology of the females, and how they do it.”
Some proteins were of particular interest because of their potential roles in modulating sperm fertilizing ability, as well as the role they might play in the synthesis of hormones and activating or deactivating other proteins. What this means, according to Sirot, is that scientists might be able to use these proteins to develop new approaches for regulating female reproduction, blood feeding, and mating behavior. These approaches to mosquito control could be an alternative to the use of pesticides.
Sirot and her fellow researchers are developing approaches that could provide a foundation for innovative new control strategies, such as reducing egg production and curbing the female’s appetite for blood, which will ultimately reduce the spread of these life-threatening illnesses.
Sirot, who graduated from the University of Michigan and earned her Ph.D. at University of Florida, is not the only member of her household tracking the lifestyle of mosquitoes. Her husband, Peter Piermarini, is a researcher at Cornell University where he studies mosquito physiology, particularly how the female can process blood so quickly after taking a meal and how this process can be exploited to control disease transmission. He will join the Department of Entomology at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) in June.
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