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Probing a mosquito protein for clues in the fight against Zika

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As health departments around the U.S. boost efforts to combat Zika, scientists are working on new ways to kill the mosquitoes that carry the virus. One approach involves understanding the molecular mechanisms that keep the bugs alive so we can then undermine them. Scientists report in the ACS journal Biochemistry that they have revealed new structural insights on a key protein from Aedes aegypti, the mosquito species most often linked to the spread of Zika.

In February, the World Health Organization called for action against the disease after Brazil experienced a spike in the number of babies born with microcephaly, a condition characterized by an abnormally small head. Since then, the virus has been reported in more than 40 countries. Studies have shown that compounds that inhibit a protein called sterol carrier protein 2 (SCP2), which is involved in the transport of cholesterol and fats in insects, can kill Aedes aegypti larva. Kiran K. Singarapu and colleagues from CSIR – Indian Institute of Chemical Technology wanted to take a closer look at the structure of one of the protein's variants to help inform the development of future insecticides.

Using solution nuclear magnetic resonance, a technique that yields molecular-level information about proteins, the researchers were able to describe the 3-D structure and dynamics of a SCP2 variant. The new insights could help scientists screen small-molecule libraries for insecticide candidates. In addition to curbing Zika, any resulting compound that stamps out Aedes aegypti could reduce cases of other illnesses — dengue fever, yellow fever and chikungunya — that the mosquito also carries.

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The authors acknowledge funding from the Department of Science and Technology of India.

The abstract that accompanies this study is available here.

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