Mosquito heat seeking is driven by an ancestral cooling receptor

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Science  07 Feb 2020:
Vol. 367, Issue 6478, pp. 681-684
DOI: 10.1126/science.aay9847

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Heat seeking is cool

Mosquitoes seek hosts using several cues, one of which is body heat. Greppi et al. hypothesized that cooling-activated receptors could be used for locating mammalian hosts if they were rewired downstream for repulsion responses (see the Perspective by Lazzari). A gene family conserved in insects and known to be responsible for sensing changes in temperature in fruit flies was the starting point. Genome-wide analyses and labeled CRISPR-Cas9 mutants allowed visualization of the receptor in neurons of Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes' antennae and assessment of adult female mosquitoes with a disrupted copy of the receptor. This ancestral insect temperature regulatory system has been repurposed for host-finding by malaria mosquitoes.

Science, this issue p. 681; see also p. 628


Mosquitoes transmit pathogens that kill >700,000 people annually. These insects use body heat to locate and feed on warm-blooded hosts, but the molecular basis of such behavior is unknown. Here, we identify ionotropic receptor IR21a, a receptor conserved throughout insects, as a key mediator of heat seeking in the malaria vector Anopheles gambiae. Although Ir21a mediates heat avoidance in Drosophila, we find it drives heat seeking and heat-stimulated blood feeding in Anopheles. At a cellular level, Ir21a is essential for the detection of cooling, suggesting that during evolution mosquito heat seeking relied on cooling-mediated repulsion. Our data indicate that the evolution of blood feeding in Anopheles involves repurposing an ancestral thermoreceptor from non–blood-feeding Diptera.

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