Notre Dame entomologist David Severson and his colleagues announced this spring that they have successfully mapped the DNA for Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that spreads yellow fever and dengue fever. The monumental feat took more than 95 scientists from 28 international institutions two-and-a-half years to accomplish.
Severson, who was a co-leader of the study, coordinated the efforts of the research team. The ND associate professor maintains 25 to 30 strains of Aedes aegypti in his lab and provided the mosquitoes used in the research. Genetic material was extracted from the insects at Notre Dame and sent to other institutions for analysis.
Armed with the Aedes genome map, scientists hope to better understand why some mosquitoes transmit disease and others don’t. That understanding could lead to more effective ways of controlling the disease-spreading insect, yielding better genetic engineering techniques. It might be possible to make the mosquitoes themselves resistant to infection of the disease-causing parasites. Insecticides and repellants also might also be improved by exploiting genetic susceptibilities.
Aedes aegypti mosquitoes infect 200,000 people with yellow fever annually, resulting in 30,000 deaths. The mosquito also causes up to 100 million cases of dengue fever, a potentially fatal disease.
Notre Dame has been a leader in the effort to map mosquito genes. Five years ago, Frank Collins, Notre Dame’s Clark Professor of Biology, was the principal investigator of the team of international researchers that mapped the genome of Anopheles gambiae, the primary transmitter of malaria.