In Strasbourg, the insectarium at the Moustiques laboratory is all shiny and new. It was inaugurated in 2018 and employs ten scientists. It also houses thousands of mosquitoes.
Most of the “residents” at Strasbourg’s insectarium are mosquitoes belonging to the Anopheles genus. Anopheles mosquitoes are vectors for Plasmodium, a group of parasites that cause malaria. As one of the “three great killers” alongside AIDS and tuberculosis, malaria affected no less than 219 million people in 2017, killing 435,000 people primarily in sub-Saharan Africa. The insectarium also houses colonies of Aedes mosquitoes, the vectors of the dengue, Zika, and Chikungunya viruses. These mosquitoes are not just flying syringes waiting to inject humans with parasites and viruses in exchange for a blood meal. “They also fight pathogens,” explains Stéphanie Blandin, who heads the Immune Responses in Mosquitoes team*. “Thanks to their specific genetics, some of them are able to block the development of the pathogens at the beginning of the infection. This means that they will not transmit the disease at their next meal.” These pathogen-neutralizing capacities are of interest to the specialists in Strasbourg. “The idea is to study which genes are involved in determining resistance or sensitivity to parasites in Anopheles mosquitoes, and in the antiviral response of Aedes mosquitoes. Once the genes have been identified, we develop tools that can be used to genetically modify the mosquitoes. This is known as transgenesis, and the purpose is to understand how they interact with pathogens according to their genetic baggage,” adds Blandin. The result could be the production of mosquitoes that are incapable of transmitting diseases to humans. Such mosquitoes could be released into the wild with the goal of supplanting infectious mosquitoes. This approach, which has never been tested on a real-life scale, must be proven to be not only effective, but also harmless.
Note :*Inserm/Université de Strasbourg/CNRS unit 1257, Immune Responses in Mosquitoes, Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Strasbourg