One of the deadliest diseases in the world is still malaria. Each year, malaria infections cause hundreds of thousands of fatalities, the majority of which are children under the age of five. Five instances of mosquito-borne malaria were recently discovered in the United States, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. This is the first reported outbreak of the disease in the nation in 20 years.
On the bright side, researchers are creating risk-free methods to genetically modify mosquitoes that transmit the parasite that causes malaria in order to reduce the disease’s transmission. Anopheles gambiae, the mosquitoes that largely carry malaria in Africa and are a major cause of economic suffering in affected areas, has been genetically suppressed by novel techniques developed by researchers at the University of California, San Diego under the direction of Professor Omar Akbari.
Since female A. gambiae bite and transmit the disease, the new system hunts down and kills them.
In a paper that was published on July 5 in the journal Science Advances, former master’s students James Pai and Reema Apte and first author Andrea Smidler of the UC San Diego School of Biological Sciences developed a system they called Ifegenia, which stands for “inherited female elimination by genetically encoded nucleases to interrupt alleles.” The method makes use of CRISPR technology to silence the femaleless (fle) gene, which regulates sexual development in A. gambiae mosquitoes.
The study endeavour was supported by researchers from UC Berkeley and the California Institute of Technology.
The two key components of CRISPR are genetically encoded in African mosquitoes by Ifegenia. These comprise a Cas9 nuclease, the molecular “scissors” that create the cuts, and a guide RNA that, using a method devised in Akbari’s lab using these mosquitoes, leads the system to the target.
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