John Marshall, an assistant professor in residence at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, has teamed up with a UC-wide consortium led by UC Riverside to develop robust and reversible gene-drive systems for control of Aedes aegypti mosquito populations.
The research is part of a $14.9 million Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) grant, of which $1.8 million has been awarded to UC Berkeley. Omar Akbari, a UC Riverside professor, is the project’s lead. The grant is part of the DARPA Safe Genes program, which calls for researchers to investigate secure gene-editing techniques.
Previous research from this team used CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology to demonstrate the potential to suppress wild mosquito populations, while at the same time minimizing the resistance to these efforts that evolution would typically favor.
The researchers believe this technology could be used to help fight dengue, Zika, malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases in the next decade, pending public and regulatory approval.
The DARPA award will fund continued work on gene-drive technology with an emphasis on biosafety and reversibility. It will also fund preliminary testing in contained, simulated natural environments and in high-throughput, rapidly reproducing populations of yeast as a model system.
Marshall says the research highlights the power of CRISPR-based gene editing to control mosquito-borne diseases.
“These diseases pose a major health burden throughout much of the world and the CRISPR-based solutions proposed here provide an excellent complement to the insecticide and drug-based strategies that are currently used,” he said.