Malaria causes between one and three million deaths per year in the subtropics. It is caused by a tiny parasite, which is passed to humans by the Anopheles group of mosquitoes. In order to control the spread of malaria, we need to control the mosquitoes.
Only some species of Anopheles transmit malaria. Many are important for the environment they live in, and so we only want to control the species that pass the disease to us.
The different species behave in different ways. Some species might live by freshwater and bite animals, whereas others might live near salt water and bite humans.
If we understand the behaviour, we can target our control methods. By targeting our pesticides on the right place or time of day, we can destroy the disease-carriers, but not harm any other species.
Ralph Harbach's work in Europe focuses on one particular species of mosquito called Anopheles masculipennis. This is one of a group of species that behave differently to each other but look very similar. The challenge is to find some way to distinguish between them.
The researchers are collecting adult mosquitoes and larvae from their natural habitat and studying their DNA.
The Museum's mosquito collections are a reference for Ralph's work. But the project is also creating a new type of study collection.
When DNA is taken from the mosquitoes, only a small part of the insect is used.