The buzz on mosquito, malaria genetic codes
California Agriculture 56(6):180-180. DOI: 10.3733/ca.v056n06p180a.
In October announcements, two international teams of scientists reported sequencing the entire genomes of the malaria-carrying mosquito, and the malarial parasite itself. These breakthroughs will provide powerful tools to scientists struggling against malaria, which afflicts 500 million people worldwide and causes up to 2.7 million deaths annually (more than 90% in sub-Saharan Africa).
The simultaneous publications included a Science article detailing the genome of the mosquito Anopheles gambiae and a Nature article detailing the genome of the parasite Plasmodium falciparum. The Science article listed 123 authors, including three at UC Riverside; the Nature article listed 44 authors.
“The economic cost to affected nations is immense,” says Peter Atkinson, co-author and UC Riverside associate professor of entomology. “No vaccine has been developed for malaria. Understanding the genetic makeup of the mosquito that transmits malaria will help with the design of new strategies to fight this disease.”
Sequencing of the mosquito genome could help to prevent malaria, which kills 2.7 million people annually. However, the scientific community was urged to use caution when pursuing genetic modification of insects.
In addition to Atkinson, postdoctoral researcher Peter Arensburger and graduate student Lisa Friedli are co-authors of the Science paper, analyzing the genome for one class of transposable elements.
In the same issue of Science, UC Davis medical entomologist Thomas Scott and colleagues called upon the scientific community to use caution in applying this new knowledge to genetic modification of mosquitoes. With the release of the genetic sequences, they noted, scientists are now better able to explore the use of genetically modified, disease-resistant mosquitoes. Such mosquitoes could be used to breed with, and largely replace, their disease-causing counterparts in the wild.
If this new strategy is to succeed, however, the very basic ecology and population biology of mosquitoes needs to be better understood, Scott and colleagues wrote.
The October disclosures also came on the heels of a September announcement that the National Institutes of Health had awarded a 10-year, $4.3 million research grant to Alexander Raikhel, UC Riverside entomology professor. The grant will support continuing investigation into the genetic and molecular mechanisms regulating egg development and maturation in mosquitoes. The research has implications for the prevention of deadly, mosquito-transmitted diseases, including malaria, West Nile virus and dengue fever.