New precision-guided sterile insect technique designed to control disease-spreading mosquitoes

E. Henderson,  News Medical Life Sciences,  2021.

Leveraging advancements in CRISPR-based genetic engineering, researchers at the University of California San Diego have created a new system that restrains populations of mosquitoes that infect millions each year with debilitating diseases. The new precision-guided sterile insect technique, or pgSIT, alters genes linked to male fertility–creating sterile offspring–and female flight in Aedes aegypti, the mosquito species responsible for spreading wide-ranging diseases including dengue fever, chikungunya and Zika.Details of the new pgSIT are described September 10, 2021, in the journal Nature Communications. pgSIT differs from “gene drive” systems that could suppress disease vectors by passing desired genetic alterations indefinitely from one generation to the next. Instead, pgSIT uses CRISPR to sterilize male mosquitoes and render female mosquitoes, which spread disease, as flightless. The system is self-limiting and is not predicted to persist or spread in the environment, two important safety features that should enable acceptance for this technology. Akbari says the envisioned pgSIT system could be implemented by deploying eggs of sterile males and flightless females at target locations where mosquito-borne disease spread is occurring.

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