Using energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy to characterize the proboscis of mosquitoes

University of Massachusetts Lowell
Lowell, Massachusetts
DOI: 10.18258/13578
Raised of $696 Goal
Funded on 10/10/19
Successfully Funded
  • $843
  • 121%
  • Funded
    on 10/10/19

About This Project

We hypothesize that female mosquitoes optimize their proboscis strength and flexibility for nectarivory differently than male mosquitoes. To test this, we will use energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy to determine the elemental composition of the mouthparts in male and female mosquitoes of three different species known to transmit zoonotic diseases. Through elemental analysis, we may better understand how these vectors use their proboscis for efficient penetration.

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What is the context of this research?

Mosquitoes are some of the most harmful disease vectors on the planet, known to transmit viruses, bacteria, protozoans, and animal parasites. Only the female mosquitoes are vampires, taking a blood meal. Male mosquitoes consume only nectar, while females consume nectar before blood meals. We hypothesize that the female proboscis has adapted in a significant way to consume blood. Does the female mosquito reinforce the exoskeleton with metals to enhance penetration? Do different species of mosquito have different elemental signatures?

What is the significance of this project?

Many arthropods such as insects, spiders and scorpions are well known to reinforce their exoskeletons with metals (e.g., zinc, calcium). These metals are proposed to add strength and rigidity to appendages that are used to immobilize and pierce prey, e.g., spiders do this with their fangs! Mosquitoes have a piercing proboscis, but surprisingly, its elemental composition has never been explored. We hypothesize that female mosquitoes balance their need for strength for penetration and flexibility for nectarivory different from male mosquitoes. We chose to analyze 3 disease-transmitting species: Anopheles quadrimaculatus (Malaria), Aedes aegypti (Zika virus), and Culex quinquefasciatus (West Nile virus, lymphatic filariasis).

What are the goals of the project?

We hypothesize that female mosquitoes balance their need for strength for penetration and flexibility for nectarivory different from male mosquitoes. We will test this by using energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy to characterize the probosicis of male and female mosquitoes of Anopheles quadrimaculatus, Aedes aegypti, and Culex quinquefasciatus. This method allows us to test for elemental composition of mosquito mouthparts. We will compare the results using energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy between males and female mosquitoes for the three species.


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The budget is focused exclusively on preparation of specimens for electron microscopy (sputter coating) and use of the JEOL scanning electron microscope housed in the Materials Characterization Laboratory at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

Endorsed by

This is an exciting project that comes at a critical time. Mosquitoes are well known to transmit various diseases, and in New England, their transmission of the EEE virus is increasing in frequency. It is imperative we gain a better understanding of the dynamics of disease transmission, which will require a better understanding of mosquito mouth parts. Surprisingly, no one has yet used EDS to examine their mouth parts as Vickram and Michaela are proposing to do. Therefore, this study is expected to add novel data about an important parasite.
Mosquitoes are known vectors of many devastating diseases. If this research can help learn more about the possible mechanism of transmission then this could aide in the source reduction of many illnesses. This could potentially spare many from suffering. Everyone will benefit.
Everyone understands the devastating effects mosquitoes have on the human population. With deaths occurring due to EEE and other diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, it is imperative that this type of research be continued as it may produce information that may lead to successful control of these dangerous pests.
Signs in many cities and towns in the Commonwealth limiting night time activities due to the potential for severe illnesses, including death, transmitted by mosquitoes. Research is necessary to get the findings we need to prevent and protect ourselves. I wish the researchers success because this will improve the lives of us all.

Project Timeline

Dissection and breeding of mosquito samples will take place in Dr. Hochberg’s Lab. Elemental composition analysis via FE-SEM and EDS will take place in the Materials Characterization Laboratory at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. The results will be collated and prepared for publication in The Journal of Parasitology. Lastly, the results will be used to produce a presentation at the American Society of Parasitologists (ASP).

Jun 01, 2019

Begin breeding of three species of mosquito

Jun 17, 2019

Dissection of mosquitoes and preparation for SEM-EDS

Jul 01, 2019

Begin studies on the FE-SEM instrument

Aug 30, 2019

Complete FE-SEM research

Sep 02, 2019

Begin collating data for publication

Meet the Team

Vickram Andrew Manoharan
Vickram Andrew Manoharan


University of Massachusetts Lowell
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Michaela Burns
Michaela Burns
Graduate Student


University of Massachusetts Lowell
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Vickram Andrew Manoharan

I am a Biology graduate student at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell. I have been interested in biological sciences since I was gifted a light microscope at a young age. That was the spark which turned into a flame of curiosity over the years, fueling my desire to learn more about all living organisms in the world we live in.

The research I work on with my partner concerns all who are at risk of being bit by a mosquito. Unveiling more about these troublesome ectoparasites could help us better defend ourselves against them.

Michaela Burns

As a biology student and avid animal lover, my main goal is to be the voice of these animals and provide them with the love and care that they deserve.

With a background in parasitology, my goal is to help educate pet owners on the dangers that mosquitos can cause. My partner and I wish to conduct this research in order to better understand these ectoparasities for the sake of its animal and human prey alike.

Lab Notes

Nothing posted yet.

Additional Information

General Work Flow

1. Eggs and larvae of three species of mosquitoes will be obtained from Benzon Research and lab grown to full adults

2. Eggs/larvae will be cultured in mosquito trap containers at 75˚F and fed mosquito larvae powder for 1-3 weeks to reach adulthood

3. Adult mosquitoes will be euthanized in the freezer (-20 C) and separated by sex

4. Mouthparts will be dissected with a dissection microscope

a. Mosquitoes will be briefly submerged in distilled water to soften the cuticle

b. The mosquito head will be detached from the thorax

c. Proboscis will be carefully dissected with 000 insect pins to expose individual mouth appendages

5. Head will be mounted on graphite SEM stubs

6. Stubs will be sputter coated with gold (for imaging)

7. Field Emission Scanning Electron Microscopy (FESEM) will be used to capture images of the mouthparts

8. Electron Dispersive X-ray Spectroscopy will be used to identify the metal elements in the different mouthparts

Project Backers

  • 18Backers
  • 121%Funded
  • $843Total Donations
  • $46.83Average Donation
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