Transposable elements in malaria mosquito genome may offer a tool for control of disease spread

(Blacksburg, Va.) -- Malaria, caused by a parasite transmitted by the Anopheles gambiae mosquito, kills more than a million people every year and sickens millions more. The insect is becoming increasingly pesticide resistant. But prevention of the disease through genetic control of the mosquito has become more possible with the completion of the first draft of the genome sequence of A. gambiae by scientists led by Robert Holt of Celera Genomics. The genome is the complete set of genetic material including genes and other segments of DNA in an organism.

More than a hundred researchers in more than a dozen labs contributed to this effort. The sequence was posted in March and a subsequent article in Science analyzes the information and reports important findings ("The Genome Sequence of the Malaria Mosquito Anopheles gambiae," Oct. 4, 2002. Holt and Frank Collins of the University of Notre Dame, corresponding authors,).

Among the co-authors are Virginia Tech researchers Zhijian (Jake) Tu, assistant professor of biochemistry, graduate student Jim Biedler, and postdoctoral associate Hongguang Shao, whose focus is the mobile genetic elements, or transposable elements, which make up more than 16 percent of the genome.

Tu's group is one of several labs involved in characterizing transposable elements (TEs) -- segments of nucleic acids, or genetic material, that move around the genome and have a significant impact on its structure and size. Other labs working on TEs in the malaria mosquito include the groups of Peter Atkinson at the University of California at Riverside, Collins, Christos Louis at IMBB-FORTH, Crete, and David O'Brochta at the University of Maryland. Collins coordinated the efforts on TE analysis.

"If you look at the genome as an ecological system, TEs are different lineages that co-evolve with the rest of the genome" says Tu. "They evolve different relationships with the genome. Some are genetic parasites; they appear to do

Contact: Jake Tu
Virginia Tech

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