Researchers have found that mosquitoes in east Africa prefer to bite cattle rather than humans. This is good news, since those mosquitoes have a lower chance of transmitting malaria to humans. The latest research shows that there may be a genetic factor at play when it comes to mosquito preferences for hosts.
The mosquitoes that prefer cattle seem to have a genetic disposition toward cattle that marks them as different than those that prey on humans. They’re the same species, the most widespread in Africa, but they have a genetic pre-disposition that might prove useful to us. The idea of genetically engineering mosquitoes to avoid human hosts is something that actually seems like it could be possible.
Researchers have narrowed the preference down to a specific rearrangement of chromosomes, and now they need to scale the research up to look at larger areas and large populations of mosquitoes to see if these findings hold true. But if they do, there’s a lot of potential to do a lot of good in the world.
Mosquitoes in the United States are mostly just annoying, but throughout the world they act as vectors for a number of diseases and viruses including Zika, malaria, and the West Nile. If scientists can genetically engineer mosquitoes to prefer animal hosts, that could significantly cut down on the spread of those diseases. What’s more, the mosquitoes that bite cattle not only aren’t biting humans, but have a lower chance of carrying the malaria parasite in the first place. Of course, other diseases might not follow these same rules, but even if we could just cut down on malaria, that would be a huge victory.
The latest research, which was conducted by the University of California Davis, provides a groundbreaking new theory as to how to combat pandemics.