• Aedes aegypti mosquito

Aedes aegypti mosquito (Photo : Reuters)

A Virginia Tech scientific team has announced that it is close to giving sex changes to biting female mosquitoes. This could result in the mosquito-borne eradication of diseases such as malaria and dengue, because male mosquitoes are non-biting.

Malaria and dengue fever cases are very rare in the United States. However, the infectious diseases have already affected and killed millions of humans.

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The World Health Organization (WHO) revealed in a 2013 report that about 500,000 people died from malaria that year. In addition, 22,000 passed away due to dengue fever, another deadly disease.  

Some researchers have long been searching for effective vaccines for the two mosquito-borne diseases. Others have focused on the root cause of the epidemic: the biting insect.

A new study by an international team of scientists focused on a sex change for female mosquitoes. The study's participants were from the mosquito species Aedes aegypti.

The mosquito species infects about 200,000 people yearly, according to Apex Beats. It spreads several types of fatal diseases such dengue and yellow fever.

Only female mosquitoes bite humans. The function is to boost their blood supply, in order to develop and lay mosquito eggs.

The research team could not alter the buzzing bug's gender by changing the DNA structure. However, they discovered a method for changing the genitals of the female mosquito.

The "nix" gene defines the sex determination in the disease-carrying mosquito species, according to STGIST. After injecting the sex gene into mosquito embryos, two-thirds of the females developed male reproductive features.  

However, the sex-change method must still be tweaked. It has only been used on insect embryos, and the reproductive organs of the female mosquitoes were not totally converted.

Still, the lead author Zhijian Jake Tu stated that scientists have known for about 70 years that a mosquito sex gene existed. The new sex-change method could one day release one nix-carrying mosquito in a region, to spread the gene to the entire mosquito population.

In addition, reports from last week revealed that Chinese researchers are trying to eradicate dengue by developing "sterile mosquitoes."  After they infected male dengue-infested mosquitoes with the bacteria "wolbachia," the insects' ability to carry dengue was limited.