A professor in New Mexico State University’s Department of Biology received a $1.46 million grant to study amino acid transport in mosquitoes in the hopes of finding new ways for controlling their population.
Immo Hansen, an associate professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, received the grant from the National Institutes of Health at the beginning of July.
“We’re going to study how mosquitoes move amino acids from one tissue to the next,” Hansen said. “They get these amino acids from our blood when they bite us. Then, in other tissues, they use these amino acids to make yolk proteins in order to make eggs and reproduce.”
The amino acids cross a layer called the mid-gut, then are transported to the fat-body tissue, where they are made into yolk proteins, Hansen said.
“The amino acids move across at least four cell membranes and in order to do that, they need a transporter protein,” Hansen. “Mosquitoes have more than 100 different amino acid transporter proteins but we’re going to focus on a group of cationic transporters that have been shown to be really important. If you can develop inhibitors that stop these transporters from doing their job, the mosquito can’t produce any fertile eggs.”
For now the research will focus on the species Aedes aegypti, the Yellow Fever mosquito, which has a dense population in southern New Mexico and is a known carrier for Dengue fever, Zika virus, and Chikungunya.
Hansen is collaborating on this research with Omar Holguin, assistant professor in NMSU’s College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences, who will conduct metabolism research on the mosquitoes. A third collaborator is Dmitri Boudko from Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in Chicago, who is an expert in membrane physiology, specifically the study of ion currents in biological tissues.
“We’re going to be taking amino acid transporters from mosquitoes and express them in frog eggs,” Hansen said. “The frog eggs will then produce the mosquito transporter proteins and we can study them with a technique called electrophysiology.”
Hansen said research into population control of mosquitoes is important now because many insecticides have “lost their punch.”
“Mosquitoes in Las Cruces and Roswell are highly resistant to the typical insecticides people use,” he said. “It’s amazing how fast their resistance has evolved.”
The NIH grant will fund this research for the next four years and allow the three professors to hire a postdoctoral fellows to assist in their research.
Author: Billy Huntsman – NMSU