Experimental population modification of the malaria vector mosquito, Anopheles stephensi

T. B. Pham, C. H. Phong, J. B. Bennett, K. Hwang, N. Jasinskiene, K. Parker, D. Stillinger, J. M. Marshall, R. Carballar-Lejarazú and A. A. James,  PLOS Genetics,  15:e1008440. 2019.

The experimental introduction of manipulated genes into insect species has a long history in basic genetics. Recent advances in genome editing technologies have spurred considerable effort to exploit these methodologies to provide genetic solutions to some of the worst medical and agricultural problems caused by insects. Insect population suppression and population modification approaches have been proposed to control transmission of vector-borne diseases, including malaria. We used small cage trials to explore the efficacy of non-drive and gene-drive releases to deliver anti-malarial effector genes to a vector mosquito, Anopheles stephensi. We show that both approaches can work to introduce genes to high percentages, but as expected, the gene-drive approaches were more efficient in that they needed only a single release with a much lower number of released insects. The gene-drive females in our studies exhibited a significant load that resulted in some cage populations going to extinction. Furthermore, the accumulation of drive-resistant target genes prevented full introduction of the transgenes in those cages that did not go extinct. While none of the strains evaluated here are proposed for open release, these laboratory cage trials reveal features that can be used to improve next-generation gene-drive strains for population modification.