In a study recently published online on March 21, 2013 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, Virginia Tech scientists used a pair of engineered proteins to cut DNA in a site-specific manner to disrupt a targeted gene in the mosquito genome. The technique could be useful for controlling mosquito-transmitted diseases. Virginia Tech researchers successfully used a gene disruption technique to change the eye color of a mosquito — a critical step toward new genetic strategies aimed at disrupting the transmission of diseases such as dengue fever. Dr. Zach Adelman and Dr. Kevin Myles, both associate professors of entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and affiliated researchers with the Fralin Life Science Institute, study the transmission of vector-borne diseases and develop novel methods of control, based on genetics. In the groundbreaking study, the scientists used a pair of engineered proteins to cut DNA in a site-specific manner to disrupt a targeted gene in the mosquito genome. Science magazine heralded these transcription activator-like effector nuclease proteins, known as TALENS, as a major scientific breakthrough in 2012, nicknaming them “genomic cruise missiles” for their ability to allow researchers to target specific locations with great efficiency. While TALENS have been previously used to edit the genomes of animal and human cell cultures, applying them to the mosquito genome is a new approach, according to Dr. Adelman. "Unlike model organisms with large collections of mutant strains to draw upon, the lack of reverse genetic tools in the mosquito has made it is very difficult to assign functions to genes in a definitive manner," Dr. Adelman said.
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