SPEAKER 1: See?
SPEAKER 2: Yeah.
SPEAKER 1: He is really attracting a mate.
SPEAKER 2: Yeah.
SPEAKER 1: That's amazing.
SPEAKER 3: And he is spending his abdomen a little bit. They use their abdomen for rudders.
SPEAKER 1: Oh, yeah?
SPEAKER 2: The Aedes aegypti mosquito originated in Africa, and it's thought to have been disseminated around the world with the movement of humans. And in fact, today, you cannot find this species in areas where there are no humans. So it relies on humans in order to survive.
You would think that mosquitoes were an important subject to study. But in reality, there is little that we really know about them, and we hardly know anything about their meeting biology. Some of the work we do involves mosquito vectors of West Nile virus.
And we have a study, as part of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to develop a mosquito that can't transmit dengue virus. And as we think to the future in these new approaches to reducing vector populations or replacing them, we really need to understand the mating behavior and the mating biology.
LAUREN CATOR: I'm interested in mate choice in mosquitoes. And specifically, I'm interested in how males and females communicate information to each other so that they can make choices about which individuals they mate with. I'm investigating this by studying flight tone and how it's used as a signal between males and females.
In order to take really accurate measurements with a particle velocity microphone, they need to be kept a constant distance away from the microphone. And so to study flight tone, I tethered mosquitoes to the blunted end of insect pens using super glue and recorded their sounds, and then was able to go back and use software that's actually been developed to study bird sounds and listen in on what they're saying to each other.
What we've found is that male and female mosquitoes of the species Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that transfers dengue and yellow fever, they match flight tone frequencies, but they don't match them at the fundamental frequency. They matched them at harmonics.
A lot of control strategies are focused on release of some sort of transgenic mosquito, either a male that is sterile-- and so through genetic methods, is sterile-- or is unable to transmit a pathogen that causes a disease. And the idea is that we're going to create these transgenic males-- these good males-- in the laboratory and release them into nature.
And our hope is that they outcompete the wild males for mates and they're able to drive the genotype that we have put in them throughout the population so that that trait gets spread around. The problem is that, at this point, we have no idea what really constitutes a "sexy male" for a female. And by studying these signals, we may even be able to learn what the mosquitoes are saying to each other and so, therefore, learn what sort of information is valuable and what makes a male a "sexy male."
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Cornell entomologist Laura Harrington and her student Lauren Cator have been studying the courtship and mating of the mosquito, Aedes aegypti, which spreads dengue and yellow fever. Despite its obvious importance, remarkably little is known about mosquito behavior.
The hope is that, by understanding the courtship of these mosquitoes, we may be able to control their population more effectively.
Harrington's research is supported by numerous grants including one from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.