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Controlling mosquitoes that carry diseases such as malaria, dengue or yellow fever, has relied largely on use of pesticides, which pose threats to other organisms in the environment. But researchers in the United States hope to develop a more targeted approach that kills mosquitoes by disrupting an essential protein.

This article describes the work of insect physiologist Que Lan and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. They have identified a mosquito protein that transports cholesterol through the insects' cells. Blocking the protein's ability to bind with cholesterol could be a way of targeting the insects, they say.

Lan's team has screened 16,000 chemicals and found 57 able to block the mosquito protein. The best five have been tested on mosquito larvae and killed them all. Tests of the chemicals toxicity to other species are now underway, with tests of their environmental impacts and time taken to degrade to follow. The team hopes to find a chemical that kills mosquitoes without harming other species or the environment and will be assessing another 20,000 candidates chemicals during the next year.

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