Genetic discovery could spell mosquitoes’ death knell: Opportunity to hurt mosquitoes but spare beneficial insects

A UC Riverside genetic discovery could turn disease-carrying mosquitoes into insect Peter Pans, preventing them from ever maturing or multiplying.

In 2018, UCR entomologist Naoki Yamanaka found, contrary to accepted scientific wisdom, that an important steroid hormone requires transporter proteins to enter or exit fruit fly cells. The hormone, ecdysone, is called the “molting hormone.” Without it, flies will never mature, or reproduce.

Before his discovery, textbooks taught that ecdysone travels freely across cell membranes, slipping past them with ease. “We now know that’s not true,” Yamanaka said.

Every insect species requires ecdysone for some aspect of their journey from egg to offspring-producing adult. And every insect that Yamanaka has tested also possesses the ecdysone transporter that he found in 2018, plus a few more found in a new study. But in this new study, he found mosquitoes to be different.

Mosquitoes have only three of the four transporter proteins that fruit flies possess. They lack the most important, primary ecdysone transporter.

“This primary one is somehow, mysteriously, missing in mosquitoes,” Yamanaka said.

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