This insect is one of the deadliest
animals on the planet. From the Anopheles, to Aedes, to Culex varieties, mosquitoes can carry Zika, malaria, chikungunya, West Nile Virus, and a variety of other diseases, many of which are found in the United States. The National Institute of Allergy
and Infectious Diseases, or NIAID, a part of the National Institutes of Health, conducts and funds research on these insects and the diseases they carry. Some NIAID-funded researchers, like Dr. Catherine Hill, study potential new insecticides. “We are really concerned about mosquito-borne diseases. The World Health Organization estimates that almost 4 billion people on the planet are at risk of mosquito-borne diseases, and those risks are increasing for a number of reasons.” This research is important, because some types of wild mosquitoes are rapidly evolving resistance to common insecticides, which are sometimes applied to bed nets. By building testing facilities in Africa, NIAID-supported researchers are learning about the wild mosquitos’ new abilities. “So if you expose an insect–a mosquito to a bed net whereas historically you would have expected that mosquito to die, now those mosquitoes are surviving. “So what we’re doing in this sort of facility is to try and better understand those processes. Even though we know mosquitoes are resistant, what does that actually mean in terms of ultimate transmission.” Other NIAID-funded researchers are working on novel methods of mosquito control, like using fungi that grow on and kill mosquitoes carrying malaria, or traps that can kill the mosquitoes that transmit Zika and similar viruses. NIAID also contributes funding towards the search for new mosquito repellents, which may someday block olfactory sensors in the insects’ antennae, or simply overwhelm the mosquitoes with powerful smells. At NIAID itself, scientists are conducting studies and clinical trials to find new vaccines and treatments for the devastating diseases that mosquitoes carry. “What we study is the interactions between Plasmodium parasites, that cause malaria, and the mosquito immune system, and how this affects malaria transmission. “Our lab is focused on preventing mosquito infection, not because we want to cure mosquitoes, but because if mosquitoes do not get infected, we can stop transmission from person to person. “So if we can reduce the rate of efficiency of transmission, then other strategies like vaccines that will protect the liver from infection, or drugs that will kill the parasite, have a better chance of working. So this is the idea: to slow down transmission so other measures can work better.” By providing support for these projects and others, NIAID continues its search for innovative, effective solutions to the burden of mosquito-borne diseases.