Researchers Create New CRISPR Tools to Help Limit Disease Transmission by Culex Mosquitoes, Which Can Carry West Nile Virus and Worm That Causes Elephantiasis

Since the onset of the CRISPR genetic editing revolution, scientists have been working to leverage the technology in the development of gene drives that target pathogen-spreading mosquitoes such as Anopheles and Aedes species, which spread malaria, dengue, and other life-threatening diseases. Much less genetic engineering has been devoted to Culex genus mosquitoes, which spread devastating afflictions stemming from West Nile virus--the leading cause of mosquito-borne disease in the continental United States--as well as other viruses such as the Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV) and the pathogen causing avian malaria, a threat to Hawaiian birds. University of California San Diego (UCSD) scientists have now developed several genetic editing tools that help pave the way to an eventual gene drive designed to stop Culex mosquitoes from spreading disease. Gene drives are designed to spread modified genes, in this case those that disable the ability to transmit pathogens, throughout the targeted wild population. As detailed in an article published online on May 20, 2021 in Nature Communications, Xuechun Feng, PhD, Valentino Gantz, PhD, and their colleagues at Harvard Medical School and the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories developed a Cas9/guide-RNA expression "toolkit" designed for Culex mosquitoes. Because such little attention in genetic engineering has been devoted to Culex mosquitoes, the researchers were required to develop their toolkit from scratch, starting with a careful examination of the Culex genome. The open-access article describing their work is titled “Optimized CRISPR Tools and Site-Directed Transgenesis Towards Gene Drive Development in Culex quinquefasciatus Mosquitoes.”
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