The findings of a ground breaking study by a team of academics led by Swansea University could have far-reaching implications for the control of mosquito larvae across the world.

Mosquito with fungusThe study into the mechanisms by which the insect pathogenic fungus Metarhizium anisopliae kills mosquito larvae has been published by the world renown PLOS One research journal. No other study to date has examined the fungus-mosquito interactions in such detail.

This rigorous and thorough study, led by Professor Tariq Butt from the Department of Biosciences at Swansea University, shows that the fungus infection processes which happen for terrestrial insects does not apply to the mosquito larvae. The fungus is able to kill the larvae without germinating resulting in a stress related and fast ‘accidental death’. This particular fungus is not adapted for the aquatic environment and doesn’t stick to the surface of the insect. It kills its host inadvertently when ingested. The conclusion is that the death is unintentional – hence the verdict of accidental death.

The findings will have far reaching implications for the control of mosquitoes and the resulting diseases which they transmit.

Professor Tariq Butt said:

“Mosquitoes are small, midge-like flies in the family Culicidae. Although a few species are harmless, most are considered a nuisance because they consume blood from living vertebrates, including humans.

“Female mosquitoes feed on blood and in the process, some of them transmit extremely harmful human diseases, such as malaria, dengue and yellow fever. More than half the world’s population is at risk to mosquito transmitted diseases, making it one of the most dangerous animals on Earth.

Speaking about the future application of these findings Professor Butt said: 

“The results from the study show that by simply casting the fungus spores on water we should be able to help to defeat troublesome life threatening colonies of mosquitoes which have been gradually moving north into Europe as the climate warms up. Trials are currently taking place in Africa and the findings would have important consequences for tackling malaria and other mosquito transmitted diseases.

“We hope that our ‘accidental death’ findings will stimulate much discussion on this topic and lead to some important and exciting developments which could eradicate the most dangerous animals on earth! “

The paper titled ‘Metarhizium anisopliae pathogenesis of mosquito larvae: a verdict of accidental death’ is published in the PLOS ONE journal http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0081686

For more information about the work of the Biosciences Department in the Swansea University College of Science go to http://www.swansea.ac.uk/biosci