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Texas A&M researchers working on molecule that prevents mosquitoes from biting

Published: Jan. 12, 2022 at 12:28 AM CST
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas (KBTX) - Researchers at Texas A&M are working on finding a molecule that will prevent mosquitoes from biting people.

Texas A&M AgriLife Professor and Research Fellow Patricia Pietrantonio says they’ve already screened about 20,000 molecules, and some are showing promise. They’re testing them by placing them in a solution that they provide the mosquitoes to eat.

“The feeding process is actually what causes us to get sick,” Pietrantonio said. “The female mosquito bites to produce their eggs. She has a goal of reproducing when she bites us, but unfortunately she also gives us the viruses and pathogens that cause disease.”

Mosquitoes can transmit a number of diseases including West Nile, Zika, yellow fever, and Dengue fever when they bite. A $672,000 grant from the Department of Defense is funding the research.

”We are trying everything we can to see if we can find a way to kill mosquitoes that are novel in terms of the mode of action and most importantly selective so that they will not harm humans,” Pietrantonio said. “We’re using a little bit of the approach of the pharmaceutical industry as opposed to the approach of the pest management industry that’s more commonly used.”

Pietrantonio says the primary goal is to kill the mosquito, but she says any result that prevents or deters it from biting is a successful outcome.

“One of the molecules is paralytic. It paralyzes the gut of the mosquito, and we have some preliminary evidence it may kill some of the mosquito larva,” Pietrantonio said. “But we want to kill the adult because that’s what the major need is right now.”

Pietrantonio says they’re also learning a lot about mosquito feeding behavior as part of their research. She says one important discovery they’ve already made is a sensory receptor on the mosquito’s foot that is also found in its mouth.

“People didn’t believe taste was important in mosquitoes, but we demonstrated that it is,” Pietrantonio said. “We are mainly looking for a feeding deterrent, basically preventing the mosquitoes from feeding to eat.”

If they are able to find a molecule that ultimately brings the results they’re looking for, Pietrantonio says some kind of spray could potentially be developed for practical use, but there’s still a long way to go until that point is reached.

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