A protein transmitted from the male mosquito to the female during sex could prove key to preventing the spread of diseases.
Aedes Aegypti mosquitos are responsible for spreading some of the world’s most dangerous diseases, including the Zika virus, dengue, and yellow fever.
They are cumulatively responsible for an estimated 50,000 deaths every year, according to the World Health Organisation.
Scientists hope that the mosquito’s sexual behaviour might offer a key to controlling the diseases.
They say that injecting the female mosquito with a protein released during sex might prevent them from mating – therefore curbing the spread of the disease.
The female mosquito only mates once in her life, in a mating session that lasts only seconds.
Mid-flight, the female Aedes Aegypti mosquito will store enough sperm to lay more than 500 eggs – eggs which will she will feed with human blood, spreading diseases as she drinks it.
Now, scientists in the lab of Leslie B Vosshall, a Robin Chemers Neustein Professor at Rockefeller University, believe that a special protein that the male transfers to her during this mating session is responsible for changing her chemical balance and driving her to turn down any more suitors in the future.
Experiments have shown that injecting the protein, known as HP-I, into females was enough to trick them into refusing suitors.
In their paper published in Current Biology, the researchers said they might eventually be able to limit the number of disease-carrying mosquitoes by using an HP-I “love potion” to convince females not to mate.
Governments, academic laboratories, and pharmaceutical companies have invested heavily in stopping the Zika virus, which swept across the Americas in 2015.
The public health efforts paid off, with Brazil declaring an end to its Zika emergency in May after a drop in cases.
However, the World Health Organisation has warned that tens of millions of people could still be infected in the Americas in the coming years.
There are currently no licensed vaccines or therapeutics available to combat Zika, although a $100m US government-led clinical trial is under way.