2021 HFSP Research Grants

Decoding acoustic communication in mosquitoes :
From distortion products to vector control


■ Project introduction

Mosquitoes transmit diseases which affect billions of people worldwide every year. Novel mosquito control tools are urgently needed to help combat the seemingly unstoppable spread of these diseases.

The strong attraction of male mosquitoes to the sound of flying females has proven an inviting target for new methods of mosquito control. However, interventions targeting hearing have largely proven ineffective in field trials. Only by understanding mosquito audition at multiple levels can we decode their communication systems and thus develop effective hearing-based interventions.

This project therefore focuses on revealing the key mechanisms underlying mosquito hearing in two major mosquito species with distinct mating behaviors (Aedes aegypti and Anopheles gambiae). This includes functional imaging and neuroanatomical investigations of the mosquito ear, building to electrophysiological tests of mosquito auditory responses to increasingly complex stimuli.

This will inform – and be informed by - novel mathematical models of mosquito hearing at both individual and group levels. Acoustic stimuli, refined by electrophysiological, behavioral and mathematical experimentation, will finally be tested in the field to judge their effectiveness in real world conditions.

This project will improve our neuroscientific knowledge of one of the most unique hearing organs in the animal kingdom, and also lay the groundwork for using sound and bioacoustical interventions to manipulate mosquito behavior.

■ Team composition

Name: Azusa Kamikouchi
Affiliation: Graduate School of Science, Nagoya University, Japan
Core focus: Acoustic communication of fruit flies
Project role: Calcium imaging; behavior; neuroanatomy
Lab website

Name: Joerg T Albert
Affiliation: Ear Institute, University College London, UK / Francis Crick institute, London, UK
Core focus: Mechanosensory biology, behavior and biophysics of insects
Project role: Electrophysiology; behavior, biomechanics
Lab website

Name: Dolores Bozovic
Affiliation: Dept. of Physics and Astronomy, and California NanoSystems Institute, University of California Los Angeles, USA
Core focus: Mechanical sensing by auditory and vestibular systems
Project role: Numerical modelling
Lab website

Name: Chun-Hong Chen
Affiliation: Institute of Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology, National Heath Research Institutes, Taiwan
Core focus: Gene editing, Mosquito immune and reproductive systems
Project role: Mutant generation; field work