New mosquito facility marks next step in fight against malaria

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Posted on 17 July 2013

Academics from Keele University and the Institut de Recherche des Sciences de la Santé (IRSS), Centre Muraz in Burkina Faso have launched a ground-breaking new research facility in West Africa that will be critical in aiding our understanding of malaria and marks an important milestone in the fight against the deadly disease.

At a time when drug resistance to malaria is increasing and there continues to be more than 200 million cases of the disease each year, the new Mosquito Ecology Research Facility, which features 12 large semi-field observational mosquito enclosures for a total surface of 1000m2, will be an important platform on which to build the research capacity at IRSS. Academics from Keele University's Centre for Applied Entomology and Parasitology will work alongside their African colleagues to develop and evaluate the next generation vector control methods and strategies to reduce the impact of the disease and help prevent infection in the future.

Funded by the British Medical Research Council, and the state-of-the-art facility will be the largest of its kind worldwide. Led by researchers, Abdoulayé Diabate from IRSS and Frédéric Tripet from Keele University, the centre will enable the study of mosquito swarming behaviour and mate choice, both poorly-understood aspects of mosquito reproductive ecology. It is thought that new research in these areas will help fill a major malaria knowledge gap between ecologists and molecular geneticists.  The facility will also enable the academics to focus on mating avoidance between different cryptic taxa of the African mosquito, Anopheles gambiae, an aspect that has so far been ignored by the scientific community due to lack of adequate funding and facilities.

Dr Frédéric Tripet from Keele University, a lead researcher in the project, comments: “We’re very pleased to be opening this world-leading research facility in what remains one of the world's regions most affected by the deadly disease. In the current context of decreasing insecticide and anti-malarial drugs efficacy, addressing these issues through new programmes of research and exploring new approaches to vector control may prove decisive for future attempts at tackling this prevalent disease".

It is thought that a better understanding of mosquito swarming and mating behaviour could lead to new tools for controlling mosquito populations by targeting swarms with traps or insecticides. By studying male mating behaviour more closely in the enclosures, it is hoped that researchers can find ways to improve the mating performance of laboratory-reared mosquitoes in malaria endemic regions. This can prove critical for strategies relying on the release of sterile male mosquitoes into the wild to curb the fertility of females or for programmes aiming to replace wild mosquito populations with genetically-modified ones that cannot transmit the disease.