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Evaluating RNAlater ® as a preservative for using near-infrared spectroscopy to predict Anopheles gambiae age and species

Maggy Sikulu123, Kayla M Dowell7, Leon E Hugo2, Robert A Wirtz4, Kristin Michel5, Kamaranga HS Peiris6, Sarah Moore38, Gerry F Killeen39 and Floyd E Dowell7*

Author Affiliations

1 Griffith University, 170 Kessels Road, 4111, QLD, Australia

2 Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Herston, QLD, Australia

3 Ifakara Health Institute, Biomedical & Environmental Sciences Thematic Group, Ifakara, Morogoro, United Republic of Tanzania

4 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

5 Division of Biology, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas, USA

6 Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas, USA

7 USDA ARS, Engineering and Wind Erosion Research Unit, Center for Grain and Animal Health Research, Manhattan, Kansas, USA

8 Disease Control and Vector Biology Unit, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK

9 Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Vector Group, Liverpool, UK

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Malaria Journal 2011, 10:186  doi:10.1186/1475-2875-10-186

Published: 8 July 2011



Mosquito age and species identification is a crucial determinant of the efficacy of vector control programmes. Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) has previously been applied successfully to rapidly, non-destructively, and simultaneously determine the age and species of freshly anesthetized African malaria vectors from the Anopheles gambiae s.l. species complex: An. gambiae s. s. and Anopheles arabiensis. However, this has only been achieved on freshly-collected specimens and future applications will require samples to be preserved between field collections and scanning by NIRS. In this study, a sample preservation method (RNAlater®) was evaluated for mosquito age and species identification by NIRS against scans of fresh samples.


Two strains of An. gambiae s.s. (CDC and G3) and two strains of An. arabiensis (Dongola, KGB) were reared in the laboratory while the third strain of An. arabiensis (Ifakara) was reared in a semi-field system. All mosquitoes were scanned when fresh and rescanned after preservation in RNAlater® for several weeks. Age and species identification was determined using a cross-validation.


The mean accuracy obtained for predicting the age of young (<7 days) or old (≥ 7 days) of all fresh (n = 633) and all preserved (n = 691) mosquito samples using the cross-validation technique was 83% and 90%, respectively. For species identification, accuracies were 82% for fresh against 80% for RNAlater® preserved. For both analyses, preserving mosquitoes in RNAlater® was associated with a highly significant reduction in the likelihood of a misclassification of mosquitoes as young or old using NIRS. Important to note is that the costs for preserving mosquito specimens with RNAlater® ranges from 3-13 cents per insect depending on the size of the tube used and the number of specimens pooled in one tube.


RNAlater® can be used to preserve mosquitoes for subsequent scanning and analysis by NIRS to determine their age and species with minimal costs and with accuracy similar to that achieved from fresh insects. Cold storage availability allows samples to be stored longer than a week after field collection. Further study to develop robust calibrations applicable to other strains from diverse ecological settings is recommended.