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By converting females into harmless males, researchers can reduce disease transmission.
Scientists have identified a gene that can be used to switch sex, transforming deadly disease carrying females into harmless males.
Scientists have identified a male determining genetic switch called Nix in Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that underlines the difference between males and females.
The reason why the switches haven’t been found in mosquitoes or other insects before is because these master switches often reside in genomic black holes.
Zhijian Jake Tu, a professor of biochemistry in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences said, “Nix provides us with exciting opportunities to harness mosquito sex in the fight against infectious diseases because maleness is the ultimate disease-refractory trait.”
When the scientists injected Nix in the embryos of mosquito, they found that two-thirds of the female mosquito developed male testes and genitals.
When the scientists used the genome editing method known as CRISPR-Cas9 to remove Nix from the male mosquito’s embryo, they found that the embryo developed female genitals.
The study helps in developing strategies for controlling mosquitoes by converting females into harmless males or selectively eliminating deadly females.
Zach Adelman, an associate professor of entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and co-author of the study said, “We’re not there yet, but the ultimate goal is to be able to establish transgenic lines that express Nix in genetic females to convert them to harmless males.”
Aedes aegypti is originally from Africa that began to spread around that world by ship in 1700’s.
This species is highly adaptable to human environment and it is also among the small fraction of species that transmit pathogens to humans.
Brantley Hall, a PhD student in Tu’s lab and co-first author on the paper said, “Targeted reduction of Aedes aegypti populations in areas where they are non-native could have little environmental impact, and drastically improve human health.”
The findings of the study are published in journal Science Express.