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Zika Update: New Discovery Could Possibly End Mosquito-Borne Diseases in Africa

Nov 23, 2016 04:00 AM EST
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New study reveals a breakthrough discovery that could possibly help put an end to mosquito-borne diseases in continents as big as Africa, University of Riverside's Sean Nealon said in an exclusive press release sent to Nature World News.

The paper entitled, "Overcoming evolved resistance to population-suppressing homing-based gene drives," puts an emphasis on the stability of so-called gene drive systems, which involve adding, disrupting, or modifying gene to alter or suppress a population of an organism.

Experts have long recommended the use of homing-based gene drive systems as a safe, environment-friendly, long-lasting, and cost efficient solution to ecological and public health crises that involve mosquito-borne diseases, such as malaria, Zika virus, dengue fever, and yellow fever.

"Although gene drives have been discussed and studied for multiple decades, the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technique which relies on a Cas9 protein targeted to a specific genomic location by guide RNAs has recently revolutionized the development of gene drive systems because it offers an inexpensive, efficient, and reliable way to make precise, targeted changes to the genome," writes UCR Today.

The study also considered the recent development of a CRISPR-Cas9-based homing system for the suppression of Anopheles gambiae, the main African malaria vector, encouraging. They, however, were also quick to add that the existing designs could cause the suppressed populations quickly rebounding, as homing-resistant alleles (alternative forms of genes that determine distinct traits that can be passed from parents to offspring) have a significant fitness advantage over functional, population-suppressing homing alleles.

To address this concern, the researchers - UC Riverside assistant professor of entomology Omar Akbari, post-doctoral researcher Anna Buchman, UC Berkley assistant professor John Marshall, and graduate student from Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education in Mexico Hector Sanchez - used a technique that involves multiplexing, which mean targeting multiple locations in a gene with the guide RNAs.

Published in the preprint server for biology, bioRxiv, the study has reached the conclusion that the size of the population that can be suppressed increases exponentially with the number of multiplexed guide RNAs, and that with six multiplexed guide RNAs, a mosquito species could potentially be suppressed on a continental scale.

In the study, the researchers also showed successful multiplexing in a fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster), which is frequently used as a model in the lab. They are now working to apply the same technique to mosquitoes.

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