New species of mosquito identified

Scientists are abuzz with the discovery of a new species of malaria mosquito identified by researchers from the University of the Witwatersrand and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, which was announced by the university on Tuesday.

The relative of the Anopheles funestus mosquito was found by researchers in tyres outside a reed hut during studies in northern Malawi in the rural villages around Karonga, on the shoreline of Lake Malawi.

The male specimens were dry-preserved on silica and 63 female specimens were transported to laboratories in Johannesburg for egg-laying.

The survivors and their progeny were reared into adulthood in the laboratory and studies done on them include sequence analysis, primer design and cross-mating examination.

“The results indicate that the Anopheles funestus belongs to a group of similar species [similar in structure and function] that are commonly distinguished from one another through the use of chromosomal and molecular techniques,” a statement from the university explained.

“Using the unique mosquito breeding facilities at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, we were able to carry out a range of experiments to show that the mosquitoes from Malawi were not the same as Anopheles funestus and that we were dealing with a species new to science,” Wits Professor Maureen Coetzee was quoted as saying.

“The results have implications for malaria vector control, particularly any attempt to use genetically modified mosquitoes. They also demonstrate how little we know about the malaria mosquito vectors in Africa despite more than 100 years of research on this important disease.”

Coetzee’s husband, Professor Richard Hunt, told the South African Press Association that he had a feeling there was something different about the mosquito when he saw it in the course of anti-malaria work.

He arranged for a team to join him in Malawi for a closer look.

“It’s great, particularly when you find out something that has been worked on for so many years and to come across a new one is really great and exciting,” said Hunt.

Between Hunt and the students, along with Professor Odette Koekemoer, an expert in molecular genetics, and Coetzee, who focused on the laboratory research, they had their eureka moment.

“In the old days one scientist would do an entire project on their own but these days it’s very much a team effort,” he said.

The newly identified species is not a malaria transmitter, but, says Hunt, it looks exactly the same as one of the most important vectors of malaria

Asked whether he had been bitten during the course of the study, he chuckled and said: “Of course, it comes with the territory”.—Sapa

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