Background: Mosquito-borne diseases threaten over half the world's human population, making the need for environmentally-safe mosquito population control tools critical. The sterile insect technique (SIT) is a biological control method that can reduce pest insect populations by releasing a large number of sterile males to compete with wild males for female mates to reduce the number of progeny produced. Typically, males are sterilized using radiation, but such methods can reduce their mating competitiveness. The method is also most effective if only males are produced, but this requires the development of effective sex-sorting methods. Recent efforts to use transgenic methods to produce sterile male mosquitoes have increased interest in using SIT to control some of our most serious disease vectors, but the release of genetically modified mosquitoes will undoubtedly encounter considerable delays as regulatory agencies deal with safety issues and public concerns.
Methods: Testis genes in the dengue vector Aedes aegypti were identified using a suppression subtractive hybridization technique. Mosquito larvae were fed double-stranded RNAs (dsRNAs) that targeted both the testis genes and a female sex determination gene (doublesex) to induce RNA interference (RNAi) -mediated sterility and inhibition of female development. Fertility and mating competiveness of the treated males were assessed in small-scale mating competition experiments.
Results: Feeding mosquito larvae dsRNAs targeting testis genes produced adult males with greatly reduced fertility; several dsRNAs produced males that were highly effective in competing for mates. RNAi-mediated knockdown of the female-specific isoform of doublesex was also effective in producing a highly male-biased population of mosquitoes, thereby overcoming the need to sex-sort insects before release.
Conclusions: The sequence-specific gene-silencing mechanism of this RNAi technology renders it adaptable for species-specific application across numerous insect species. We envisage its use for traditional large-scale reared releases of mosquitoes and other pest insects, although the technology might also have potential for field-based control of mosquitoes where eggs deposited into a spiked larval site lead to the release of new sterile males.