Photo credit: UC Riverside

The mosquito species, Aedes aegypti is a carrier of diseases such as dengue, chikungunya, yellow fever and Zika Virus. In a bid to eradicate the species, researchers have used gene editing. 

The researchers, from the University of California, Riverside develop mosquitoes whose germlines express the Cas9 enzyme in a more stable way. The result is a yellow, three-eyes, wingless mosquito, which is made possible through disruptions in the insect’s cuticle, wgming and eye development. The transgenic mosquitoes are more susceptible to the use of CRISPR-Cas9 to facilitate edits that could lead to the eventual eradication of the species. 

Lead researcher, Omar Akbari, an assistant professor of entomology at UC Riverside, published the study in the journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)

This reportedly is just the start, the future plan is to combine CRISPR-Cas9 with the use of gene drives systems, a technology that increases the chance for a particular gene to express from a parent organism to its offspring. 

Akbari said, “These Cas9 strains can be develop split-gene drives which are a form of gene-drive by which the Cas9 and the guide RNA’s are inserted at separate genomic loci and depend on each other for spread. This is the safest way to develop and test gene drives in the laboratory to ensure no spread into the wild.”

The potential of the gene drives would push for the expression of the genes that limit the mosquitoe’s sight, flight and feeding, all using a technique that disrupts a target gene in multiple sites called multiplexing. 

However, using gene drives does bring with it some unwanted effects. One of the most concerning thoughts is that a gene drive could obtain the power to effect an entire species. Therefore, the gene drives should be dealt with great thought and educated hesitation. The dangers don’t seem to concern Abkari, he concluded, “Next steps should be undertaken to identify the regulatory sequences that can be used to express the guide RNAs from the genome, and once these sequences are identified gene drives in the species should be turnkey.”