The upside of prudery:
Scientists believe it may be possible to combat malaria by interfering with the sex lives of the mosquitoes which spread the disease.
They have shown that the insects can only mate successfully if the male is able to seal his sperm inside the female using a “mating plug”.
Without the plug, fertilisation cannot occur, and the animals cannot reproduce.
There is a lot in the BBC article about plugs. I haven’t yet decided if that is disquieting.
The Imperial College London study is published in the journal PLoS Biology.
The researchers focused on the species of mosquito primarily responsible for the transmission of malaria in Africa – Anopheles gambiae.
These insects mate only once in their lifetime, so disrupting the reproductive process offers a good way of dramatically reducing their numbers.
When they mate, the male transfers sperm to the female followed by a coagulated mass of proteins and seminal fluids known as a mating plug.
This plug is not found in any other species of mosquito and its role had previously been unclear.
But the Imperial team showed it was essential for ensuring sperm is correctly retained in the female’s sperm storage organ, from where she can fertilise eggs over the course of her lifetime.
In the lab, the researchers were able to stop successful reproduction by preventing the formation of the plug in males.
Let us be somewhat clear about what is afoot here: Researchers are hoping to develop an enzymatic inhibitor that prevents the formation of a mating plug in a specific species of mosquito (A. gambiae) in order to disrupt the utility of the insect’s sex life.
Okay, so that’s not exactly prudery. Still, though, the gossip on it must be vicious: “I don’t think Bob is really cut out to be a father,” she said, and then dropped her voice to something barely above a whisper, that she might specify: “His plugs don’t work.”
Or the scientist: “I take dirty pictures of mosquitos. No, really. It’s for malaria research ….”