The vampire gene is technically known as trypsin-like serine protease, or Tryp-SPc, said Wu Dongdong, a PhD candidate and lead author of a paper on the subject to be published in the next issue of Molecular Biology and Evolution.
Tryp-SPc “makes mosquitoes capable of digesting blood faster and more efficiently than other non-blood-feeding species,” Wu said.
Vampire genes are not limited to mosquitoes, bedbugs and other blood-sucking creatures but are found in far smaller doses in almost all animals, including humans.
During research scientists fed blood to some mosquitoes and orange juice to others. Genetic analysis found the presence of Tryp-SPc was far higher in the group that fed on blood.
Now researchers hope to find ways to eliminate the mosquitoes or at least reduce their thirst for human blood.
“When mosquitoes came in contact with a chemical agent that eliminated the expression of Tryp-SPc, they lost interest in blood. Even if they did bite they would have a hard time digesting the blood,” Wu said.
The discovery could play a key role in the fight against mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, an actual scourge in the developing world.
“I don't know if the discovery can lead us to eventually create a human vampire in our lab,” Mr Wu said. “But the technology is already available.”