Cutting Down Malaria with CRISPR: Mosquito gene editing as a new form of transmission prevention

Cutting Down Malaria with CRISPR: Mosquito gene editing as a new form of transmission prevention

Mosquitoes aren’t just annoying pests, they’re the deadliest animals to humans. Each year mosquitoes transmit fatal diseases to millions of people, including malaria. Malaria kills nearly half a million people worldwide annually, and while there are several prevention and treatment options, none have been able to fully stop the disease from spreading. Now, however, scientists have a new weapon in the fight against malaria transmission: CRISPR/Cas9.

CRISPR/Cas9 is a technique used by scientists to alter DNA inside a living cell. In a new PLOS Pathogens study, scientists at Johns Hopkins University used the CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing system on Anopheles mosquitos to prevent the activation of a key protein required for the development of the malaria parasite Plasmodium.

The development of Plasmodium inside mosquitos requires the activation of different mosquito components called agonists. These agonists include one specialized protein, fibrinogen-related protein 1 or FREP1. The researchers at Johns Hopkins had previously discovered this protein and the role it played in the development of the malaria parasite. Using a recently developed CRISPR/Cas9 genome-editing tool for Anopheles mosquitoes, they successfully deactivated FREP1, preventing the development of Plasmodium.

The gene-edited mosquitoes were less likely to carry both human and rodent Plasmodium parasites, though they were also less fit than normal mosquitoes. Regardless, this innovative approach could lead to the prevention of malaria transmission to humans and shows just another one of the many potential uses of this cutting-edge gene editing system.

Citation: Dong Y, Simões ML, Marois E, Dimopoulos G (2018) CRISPR/Cas9 -mediated gene knockout of Anopheles gambiae FREP1 suppresses malaria parasite infection. PLoS Pathog 14(3): e1006898. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1006898

Image Credit: Dong Y, et al. (2018)

Author

Jose is a Senior Publications Assistant on PLOS Pathogens. He received a Bachelor's Degree in English from UC Berkeley and now works helping to publish and promote cutting edge research in the field of infectious diseases.

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