A research project that began in 2004 and involved 38 institutions around the world has culminated in the sequencing of the Culex mosquito genome. Culex is one of the three mosquito genera, the other two – Anopheles and Aedes – having already been sequenced in 2002 and 2007, respectively. It is also the genus that obtains the West Nile virus from infected birds and transmits it to humans. Scientists hope that by better understanding the mosquito, they may be better able to control the spread of the virus.

"We can now compare and contrast all three mosquito genomes, and identify not only their common genes but also what is unique to each mosquito," said Peter Arensburger, an entomologist at the University of California-Riverside, which led the project. "Moreover, now that we have sequenced the Culex genome, we can begin to identify which mosquito genes get turned on or turned off in response to infection – knowledge that is critical to developing strategies for preventing the transmission of West Nile virus and other disease vectors."

The individual species used in the study was Culex quinquefasciatus, also known as the southern house mosquito. At 579 million nucleotides, the size of its genome falls midway between those of the other two genera. Arensburger believes that its relatively large number of genes is what has allowed it to thrive – the Culex genus is the most diverse and geographically widespread type of mosquito.

The research was published in the journal Science.