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UC Riverside professor to head study into neutralizing mosquitoes’ ability to spread disease

RIVERSIDE – A UC Riverside scientist is taking charge of a research project funded by the federal government to determine how gene manipulation methods might neutralize mosquitoes’ ability to infect people with yellow fever and other diseases, according to campus officials.
Entomology Professor Omar Akbari and his research team, whose members hail from five UC campuses, are set to receive up to $14.9 million from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to oversee elements of its “Safe Genes” program.
The DARPA contract award represents the largest sum received to date by a UCR researcher, campus officials said.
Akbari’s group will focus on refining so-called “gene drive” techniques that replace disease-carrying genes in mosquito populations with harmless ones.
“Our primary goal is to safely test and innovate these technologies strictly in the laboratory,” Akbari said. “We hope our efforts will broaden our fundamental understanding of the potency of gene drives to help better understand how they may behave in the natural environment.”
The researchers will draw on recent findings showing the potential effectiveness of a gene “editing” method, called CRISPR/Cas9, to manipulate proteins so that creatures’ molecular structures are permanently changed and passed on, according to a university statement.
The approach could drive out the disease-carrying capability of mosquitoes that might otherwise transmit chikungunya, dengue and Zika, officials said.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, up to 400 million people are infected with dengue, or malaria, annually, mainly in the tropics and subtropics. The Zika virus is less prevalent but growing and can pose serious risks to pregnant women, whose newborns may suffer deformities.
Akbari’s team will examine the prospects of altering Aedes aegypti mosquitoes’ genes to remove their disease-carrying potential. The effort will involve gathering mosquito samples throughout California, processing ecological data and determining what gene drives work in various settings, according to UCR.
Along with the Aedes Aegypti species, the researchers also ultimately hope to conduct experiments on those species responsible for spreading West Nile virus.
The post UC Riverside professor to head study into neutralizing mosquitoes’ ability to spread disease appeared first on Valley News .

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