Using the ground-breaking CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technique, University of California scientists have created a strain of mosquitoes capable of rapidly introducing malaria-blocking genes into a mosquito population through its progeny, ultimately eliminating the insects' ability to transmit the disease to humans. This new model represents a notable advance in the effort to establish an anti-malarial mosquito population, which with further development could help eradicate a disease that sickens millions worldwide each year. To create this breed, researchers at the Irvine and San Diego campuses inserted a DNA element into the germ line of Anopheles stephensi mosquitoes that resulted in the genes preventing malaria transmission being passed on to an astonishing 99.5 percent of offspring. The transferred genes included dual anti-Plasmodium falciparum effector genes, a marker gene, and the autonomous gene-drive components. A. stephensi is a leading malaria vector in Asia. The study underlines the growing utility of the CRISPR method, a powerful gene editing tool that allows access to a cell's nucleus to snip DNA to either replace mutated genes or insert new ones. Results were published online on November 23, 2015 in PNAS. The article is titled “Highly Efficient Cas9-Mediated Gene Drive for Population Modification of the Malaria Vector Mosquito Anopheles stephensi.” "This opens up the real promise that this technique can be adapted for eliminating malaria," said Anthony James, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Molecular Biology & Biochemistry and Microbiology & Molecular Genetics at UC Irvine (UCI). For nearly 20 years, the James lab has focused on engineering anti-disease mosquitoes.
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