An equal and opposite reaction

Mosquito Seems like a great idea – the widespread use of insecticide coate bednets to cut the spread of malaria by mosquitoes (mostly active at night). Unfortunately nature is rarely that simple. Widespread use has driven mosquitoes to evolve resistance to the insecticides used. By identifying genetic patterns that predict when and where resistance will evolve, scientists hope to curb resistance.


Genomic Footprints of Selective Sweeps from Metabolic Resistance to Pyrethroids in African Malaria Vectors Are Driven by Scale up of Insecticide-Based Vector Control. (2017) PLoS Genet 13(2): e1006539. doi: 10.1371/journal. pgen.1006539
Malaria control currently relies heavily on insecticide-based vector control interventions. Unfortunately, resistance to insecticides threatens the continued effectiveness of these measures. Metabolic resistance, caused by increased detoxification of insecticides, presents the greatest threat to vector control, yet it remains unclear how these mechanisms are linked to underlying genetic changes driven by the massive selection pressure from these interventions, such as the widespread use of Long Lasting Insecticide Nets (LLINs) across Africa. Therefore, understanding the direction and speed at which this operationally important form of resistance spreads through mosquito populations is essential if we are to get ahead of the ‘resistance curve’ and avert a public health catastrophe. Here, using microsatellite markers, whole genome sequencing and fine-scale sequencing at a major resistance locus, we elucidated the Africa-wide population structure of Anopheles funestus, a major African malaria Vector, and detected a strong selective sweep occurring in a genomic region controlling cytochrome P450-based metabolic pyrethroid resistance in this species. Furthermore, we demonstrated that this selective sweep is driven by the scale-up of insecticide-based malaria control in Africa, highlighting the risk that if this level of selection and spread of resistance continues unabated, our ability to control malaria with current interventions will be compromised.

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