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Gene-silencing nanoparticles take the fight against mosquitoes down to the genetic level

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July 21, 2010

A female mosquito feeding on a human arm: could this pest's days be numbered?

A female mosquito feeding on a human arm: could this pest's days be numbered?

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To most Gizmag readers, mosquitoes are at most a pesky nuisance - for others of course, particularly in more tropical areas, they're a genuine killer, spreading all sorts of diseases as they feed on the blood of their victims. Either way, the female mosquito's habit of biting humans puts mozzies high on the list of most hated insects. So many will appreciate a new study from Kansas State University, in which researchers have successfully used nanoparticles impregnated with gene-silencing dsRNA to specifically target particular genes in mosquito larvae. A small supply of these nanoparticles, added to a still water breeding ground, can kill mozzie larvae as they grow, or at the least, render them much more susceptible to insecticides… And the process is fascinating.

The Kansas University team (including two visiting Chinese scientists) recently published a paper, "Chitosan/double-stranded RNA nanoparticle-mediated RNA interference to silence chitin synthase genes through larval feeding in African malaria mosquito (Anopheles gambiae)" in the journal Insect Molecular Biology. Quite a mouthful.

The aim of the study was to use gene silencing techniques to prevent the growing mosquito larvae from developing properly by suppressing their ability to produce chitin, the main constituent of the hard exoskeleton that mosquitoes share with other insects, crustaceans and spiders.

Mosquito.

They used a technique called RNA interference to achieve effective gene silencing. This is done by delivering tiny molecules of double-stranded (ds)RNA into the organism, at which point the interfering RNA destroys the messenger RNA of a particular gene - in this case, the chitin production gene. Without the ability to communicate through messenger RNA, the gene can't get its job done, and the larva can't make itself an exoskeleton as it develops. It either dies, or lives in a weakened and vulnerable state.

The key breakthrough in this study was that the team found an effective way of delivering that interfering dsRNA into the mosquito larvae without having to manually inject it.

Instead, the team created non-dissolving nanoparticles that contained the dsRNA molecules, and added them to the water in which the larvae were developing. It worked, leading the team to project the possibility of a commercial product that would let you effectively poison standing bodies of water with this gene silencing dsRNA to keep mosquito numbers down.

Members of the team are looking into how similar technology might be used to directly attack other insect pests such as grasshoppers and European corn borers.

It's a fascinating angle of attack, but of course it opens up the question of what other effects the gene silencing dsRNA might have on other elements in the biosphere. But since the molecules only attack and silence the genes that produce chitin, only local insects, arachnids and crustaceans should be effected.

About the Author
Loz Blain Loz has been one of Gizmag's most versatile contributors since 2007. Joining the team as a motorcycle specialist, he has since covered everything from medical and military technology to aeronautics, music gear and historical artefacts. Since 2010 he's branched out into photography, video and audio production, and he remains the only Gizmag contributor willing to put his name to a sex toy review. A singer by night, he's often on the road with his a cappella band Suade.   All articles by Loz Blain
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7 Comments

And if 0.0001% of mosquitoes genetically happen to have a chitin chemistry with a work-around for nanoparticles that contain these dsRNA molecules, it will take ... how many generations for those genes to spread through the population? And that is ... how many months?

I would rather see something that gave non-disease-spreading mosquitoes a genetic advantage. Any dip in the mosquito population will always be as transient as an electoral promise, but let's make allies of them.

Facebook User
21st July, 2010 @ 07:36 am PDT

Of course, the job is to 'prove' that only chitin-producing genes are affected. Is there any way to do that?

Grunchy
21st July, 2010 @ 12:16 pm PDT

"only local should be effected"

"ONLY"

insects, arachnids and crustaceans, are major portions of the living world.

Zane Howlett
21st July, 2010 @ 04:38 pm PDT

If any one of us was in Africa without the financial means to even afford a mosquito net, I think attitudes would change. We would not worry too much about the possible carryover to other insects! Anything that cuts down on the disease-carrying mosquito population is a good thing, especially to the millions killed by malaria!

Will, the tink
22nd July, 2010 @ 03:01 am PDT

Good attempt. I purchased mosquito repeller (Using Ultrasonic Sound) in Italy. When I used it in India instead of running away the Mosquitoes were dancing round the device. Perhaps the device was meant for Italian Mosquitoes but not Indian Mosquitoes (Even though both the countries name start with "I".

Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore (AP), India

Anumakonda Jagadeesh
22nd July, 2010 @ 07:27 am PDT

In common with most humans, I hate mosquitos, but they seem to love me. Maybe I have 'sangre dulce', some people are unaffected by them. Good luck to these researchers, but has the reason that they favour some people and avoid others been investigated? A look at this could be fruitful.

Terotech
23rd July, 2010 @ 02:34 pm PDT

Like Tim, Grunchy and Zane, I'm not a fan of this development. Agreed, mosquito's are a real plague and cause many fatalities, but what takes their place if we exterminate them this way?

And indeed, we have no evidence that only mosquitos will be affected, let alone just one variety. Many other chitinous life forms may suffer as well, causing extreme trauma to our eco-system on a global scale.

And there's another thing: what of all the beings that prey on mosquitos? They will starve, or need to find a different food source, whatever consequences that may hold for us.

BoilingOil
25th July, 2010 @ 09:29 pm PDT
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