About Us: A New Way to Fight Zika, Other Mosquito Diseases

July 11, 2016

Peter Piermarini believes there’s a new, biological way to combat the mosquitoes that transmit Zika, dengue, malaria and other dreaded diseases: Make them unable to pee. It’s no potty joke.

Piermarini, an entomologist based on Ohio State’s Wooster campus, and other collaborators are looking for ways to disrupt the mosquitoes’ Malpighian tubules, which are the equivalent of human kidneys. “Female mosquitoes rely on their ‘kidneys’ when consuming a human blood meal,” Piermarini said. “They may ingest the equivalent of their own body mass in blood, so they need to immediately get rid of the excess fluid they consume. They achieve this by urinating on their host while they are still feeding.” As a result, Piermarini explained, mosquitoes with impaired “kidney” function would be less likely to escape the human host and survive the ingestion of blood.

Among other developments, Piermarini’s team has identified a chemical that compromises a mosquito’s ability to excrete urine. In a 2016 paper, the scientists also reported the discovery of 4,000 genes in the “kidneys” of the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus). The genes are affected when the insect feeds on blood. This information reveals new molecular targets for the development of novel insecticides that disrupt the Malpighian tubules. Aedes mosquitoes are responsible for the transmission of Zika virus, which can cause birth defects and poor pregnancy outcomes. They also help spread dengue fever, which infects hundreds of millions of people annually and can be fatal.

Piermarini said new methods for mosquito control are urgently needed, as these insects are becoming resistant to insecticides currently used to combat them. “If we can accomplish our goal, then we may uncover a new generation of insecticides for controlling resistant mosquitoes and the spread of mosquito-borne diseases,” he said. ✍ MAURICIO ESPINOZA 

Pete Piermarini's research on mosquitoes is highlighted in the summer 2016 issue of the CFAES newsletter, Continuum, page 15.   Here is a link to the issue (http://cfaes.osu.edu/sites/cfaes_main/files/site-library/site-documents/continuum/Continuum_Summer_2016.pdf).  The article is found on page 14 of the attachment.