In one of the first successful attempts at genetically engineering mosquitoes, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) researchers have altered the way the insects respond to odors, including the smell of humans and the insect repellant DEET. The research not only demonstrates that mosquitoes can be genetically manipulated using the latest research techniques, but paves the way to understanding why the insect is so attracted to humans, and how to block that attraction.
"The time has come now to do genetics in these important disease-vector insects. I think our new work is a great example that you can do it," says Leslie Vosshall, an HHMI investigator at Rockefeller University who led the new research, published May 29, 2013 in the journal Nature.
In 2007, scientists announced the completion of the full genome sequence of Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that transmits dengue and yellow fever. A year later, when Vosshall became an HHMI investigator, she shifted the focus of her lab from Drosophila flies to mosquitoes with the specific goal of genetically engineering the insects. Studying mosquitoes appealed to her because of their importance as disease carriers, as well as their unique attraction to humans.
Vosshall's first target: a gene called orco, which her lab had deleted in genetically engineered flies 10 years earlier.
"We knew this gene was important for flies to be able to respond to the odors they respond to," says Vosshall. "And we had some hints that mosquitoes interact with smells in their environment, so it was a good bet that something would interact with orco in mosquitoes."
Vosshall's team turned to a genetic engineering tool called zinc-finger nucleases to specifically mutate the orco gene in Aedes aegypti. They injected the targeted zinc-finger nucleases into mosquito embryos, waited for them to mature, identified mutant individuals, and generated mutant strains that allowed them to study the role of orco in mosquito bio
|Contact: Jim Keeley|
Howard Hughes Medical Institute