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Genetically engineered mosquitoes show resistance to dengue fever virus

Researchers have successfully created a genetically engineered mosquito that shows a high level of resistance against the most prevalent type of dengue fever virus, providing a powerful weapon against a disease that infects 50 million people each year.

Anthony James, a UC Irvine vector biologist, is one of a team of researchers who injected DNA into mosquito embryos, creating the first stable transgenic mosquito resistant to Type 2 dengue fever virus, the most prevalent strain of the disease. The mosquitoes that survived the procedure also remained fertile and were able to reproduce, a key factor for any future strategies that may involve replacing mosquito populations with their genetically modified counterparts.

The results were published this week in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"These results are very exciting because they provide us a genetic tool we can use to control mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue fever," James said. "We have been working for some time on the individual components of creating a genetically modified mosquito that would fend off dengue infection, but this is the first time we have brought all the pieces together to create a stable model that can also reproduce."

In the study, the researchers exploited a vulnerability of the dengue virus to make the mosquitoes resistant to infection. This vulnerability occurs when the virus replicates and its single strand of RNA -- a chemical cousin of DNA -- briefly becomes doublestranded. At this point, the virus is vulnerable because of a naturally occurring protein called dicer-2. This protein initially has no effect on a single strand of RNA, but acts like scissors on the double strand, chopping it up and rendering its genetic material useless. Once this process is started, the single-stranded RNA also becomes vulnerable to dicer-2 and is cut up, thereby preventing further virus replication.

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Contact: Farnaz Khadem
fkhadem@uci.edu
949-824-5484
University of California - Irvine
8-Mar-2006


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