A team of international scientists recently sequenced the genomes from 16 Anopheles mosquito species to better understand the insects and hopefully create a more effective treatment for malaria.
Approximately 200 million humans contact malaria through Anopheles mosquitoes each year. There are approximately 500 species of the Anopheles mosquito, but only a dozen carry malaria parasites.
Led by Nora Besansky, O'Hara Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Notre Dame, the researchers wanted to better understand the genetic differences between the species that transmit malaria and those that do not.
The majority of malaria deaths are in sub-Saharan Africa. Researchers have discovered that the most dangerous mosquito species, the Anopheles gambiae, lives in that region.
Besansky and her team concentrated on the Anopheles genomes that are most commonly found in Africa, including the Anopheles gambiae.
In two papers published in the Thursday edition of "Science Express," the researchers reported that they found a high rate of gene gain and loss in the mosquitos. Some of the genes, including those found in the protein of mosquito saliva, had extremely high rates of sequence evolution and are only found in the most closely related of species.
"These dynamic changes may offer clues to understanding the diversification of mosquitoes; why some breed in salty water while others need temporary or permanent pools of fresh water, or why some are attracted to livestock while others will only feed on humans," Daniel Neafsey, a Harvard researcher who participated in the study, said.