Matthew Topping is a CoMPLEX PhD student at the UCL Ear Institute.
Insect-borne infectious diseases are one of the major plagues of humanity, annually causing millions of deaths. It always starts the same way: a female mosquito bites a human, infecting them with a disease-causing pathogen. Controlling mosquito populations and preventing them from biting humans is therefore a primary goal in global disease management.
Disease transmission is inextricably linked to the biology of mosquitoes. My PhD project will study the mechanosensory bases of mosquito blood-feeding behaviour. It seems very likely that, in order to insert their proboscis into the human skin, mosquitoes rely on sensory feedback from mechanosensory organs, like e.g. chordotonal organs (ChOs). We will test this by ablating chordotonal organ function using chordotonal-specific insecticides.
Mechanosensory, and specifically chordotonal, signalling, however, is also a crucial component of the animals’ air-borne courtship, and copulatory, behaviour. The same strategy that impairs the animals’ ability to insert their probosces into human skin could thus also directly impact the animals’ reproduction rate.
Results and implications of these experiments will be analysed with newly devised computational models of disease transmission, using the degree of mechanosensory impairment as a novel model parameter. We anticipate that our approach will lead the way to new strategies of vector control.