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Engineered Mosquitoes Repel Dengue Virus

A team of international researchers has synthetically engineered mosquitoes that can halt the dengue virus transmission.

At the University of California San Diego, the team of researchers led by biologists described in the journal PLOS Pathogens, the details of this achievement in Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, the insects that spread dengue in humans on January 16.

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For dengue suppression, researchers at UC San Diego Associate Professor Omar Akbari’s lab and Vanderbilt University Medical Center worked together to identify a broad spectrum of human antibodies. Improving upon the previous designs that addressed single strains, now the new development marks the first engineered approach in mosquitoes that targets four known types of dengue.

Then an antibody “cargo” was designed to be synthetically expressed in the mosquitoes which spreads the dengue virus, the female A. aegypti mosquitoes.

A member of the Tata Institute for Genetics and Society, Akbari, of the Division of Biological Sciences said, “The antibody is activated and expressed once the female mosquito takes in blood. The replication of the virus is hindered by the antibody and it prevents its dissemination throughout the mosquito, which then eventually prevents and halts the transmission of the virus to humans. This approach seemed to be powerful.”

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He said that the engineered mosquitoes will be capable of spreading the antibody throughout wild disease-transmitting mosquito populations as it could easily be paired with a dissemination system, such as a gene drive based on CRISPR/CAS-9 technology.

At Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn, the Jr., M.D., director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center and the co-author, James Crowe said, “To confer immunity to mosquitoes, we can now transfer genes from the human immune system and this is fascinating. A whole new field of biotechnology possibilities opens up through this work to interrupt mosquito-borne diseases of man.”

Millions of people in tropical and sub-tropical climates are threatened by the dengue virus, according to the World Health Organization. In many Asian and Latin American countries, among children, severe dengue is a leading cause of serious illness and death. Recently, the highest number of dengue cases ever recorded in the Americas was reported by the  Pan American Health Organization. There is no specific treatment currently and thus control and prevention depend on the measures taken to stop the virus from spreading.

Akbari’s lab is currently in the early stages of testing methods to simultaneously neutralize mosquitoes against dengue and a suite of other viruses such as chikungunya, yellow fever, and Zika virus. He said, “In the foreseeable future, this development may pave ways to limit human suffering and mortality by viable genetic approaches to control dengue virus in the field.”

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The global director of the Tata Institute for Genetics and Society (TIGS) and professor emeritus of molecular biology at UC San Diego, Suresh Subramani said, “Mosquitoes collectively put 6.5 billion people at risk globally as they are the messengers that transmit diseases like Zika, chikungunya, yellow fever, malaria, and dengue and so they have been given the bad rap of being the deadliest killers on the planet. Killing this messenger has been the focus everywhere, until recently. Instead of killing the messenger, the work from the Akbari lab and at TIGS is aimed at disarming the mosquito and preventing it from transmitting diseases. Preventing mosquitoes’ ability to transmit dengue virus and potentially other mosquito-borne pathogens by immunizing mosquitoes is shown possible in this paper.”

This research included the coauthors Igor Antoshechkin of the California Institute of Technology, Shin-Hang Lee, Shin-Wei Wang, and Chun-Hong Chen of the National Health Research Institutes (Taiwan); UC San Diego graduate student Stephanie Gamez; Anna Buchman and Ming Li of the Section of Cell and Developmental Biology, Division of Biological Sciences, UC San Diego; and Melissa Klein, Jean-Bernard Duchemin and Prasad Paradkar of CSIRO Health and Biosecurity.

SOURCE Engineered Mosquitoes Repel Dengue Virus