Scientists have sequenced the genome of the Southern house mosquito, shedding new light on the transmission of mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, encephalitis, West Nile virus and filariasis, according to two reports to be published Friday in the journal Science.
Breeding in drains, cesspools and other polluted water bodies, Culex quinquefasciatus feeds on blood from birds, livestock and humans and transmits West Nile virus, St. Louis encephalitis and the microscopic roundworm that causes lymphatic filariasis, leading to 120 million infections and over 40 million cases of elephantiasis each year.
Already, researchers have sequenced the genomes of two other mosquitoes, Aedes aegypti, which transmits yellow fever and dengue fever, and Anopheles gambiae, a species that carries malaria, a disease that infects 250 to 500 million people each year and kills nearly one million people annually, mostly young children in sub- Saharan Africa.
Culex differs from the two other arthropods in that its molecular "parts list" includes a staggering 18,883 protein-coding genes -- that is 22 percent larger than for Ae. aegypti and 52 percent larger than for An. gambiae -- with multiple gene family expansions, including those controlling smell and taste, immune responses and genes that attack toxic foreign compounds, the researchers discovered.
Greater understanding of these expanded gene sets could provide critical new insights into Culex and improve public health efforts. The mosquito’s more complex genetic structure may have influenced evolution of Culex as an opportunistic feeder, able to detect and feed on birds, humans and livestock. This flexibility contributes to Culex’s ability to transmit numerous disease-causing organisms - - including West Nile virus, encephalitis viruses, filiarial worms and malaria parasites -- to birds and humans, the researchers reported.
"The consequent diversity in many different genes may be an important factor that led to the wide geographic distribution" of Culex, concludes a team of 69 co-authors of the genome report.
Researchers said the genome advances are being shared with scientists around the globe as part of an international effort to bring researchers, doctors and public health experts the best information possible in order to combat the spread of these deadly and disfiguring diseases.