MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a vital mechanism controlling the production of mosquito eggs, and now a group of researchers from the University of California believes the molecules could be used to control the flying pests.

Mosquitoes are responsible for the spread of many dangerous diseases, including malaria, West Nile virus, and dengue fever. These tiny insects are the most dangerous animal in the world to human beings. Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which spread yellow fever as well as dengue, were studied in the newest research.

Researchers hope that by studying the role of miRNAs, it may be possible to develop new methods to help control populations of the insects in areas where illness is rampant.

"To our knowledge, this is the first time a mosquito miRNA has been investigated in this specific manner. Our work provides insight into the importance of miRNAs in adult mosquito development and how these small regulatory molecules have potential to serve as novel control approach to regulate mosquito numbers," Alexander Raikhel from the University of California, Riverside said.

Female mosquitoes require blood to provide nutrients needed for reproduction. Researchers found that reducing levels of the small regulatory RNA molecule resulted in widespread birth defects and faults in laying eggs. Genetic analysis of the mosquitoes in the study revealed one variety of the organic molecule miR-8 targets a molecule called swim. When levels of this chemical rise too high, reproductive problems result in the insects, including a reduction in the number of eggs laid by females.

No vaccines currently exist for the prevention of dengue, malaria, or West Nile virus. Each year, 100 million people are diagnosed with dengue, and almost 2.5 billion people around the globe are in danger of contracting the disease. Yellow fever is diagnosed in 200,00 people around the world, and 30,000 people die from the illness. Malaria is the greatest killer of the group, taking the lives of around one million victims annually. In the United States, West Nile virus has spread around the nation, as well as the rest of North America, in just a single decade.

Raikhel and his team believe their finding could help researchers develop birth control for the potentially hazardous insects.

"We were looking to find a way to disrupt the host-seeking behavior of mosquitoes by interrupting their egg development. With egg development halted, the population of mosquitoes would eventually collapse," Raikhel said.

Discovery of the role of microRNA-8 in the development of mosquito egg production was profiled in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Pnas).

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