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UC Riverside Team Wins $14.9M DARPA Grant for Genetic Mosquito Control Research

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – A University of California, Riverside-led team has received a $14.9 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to take part in the Safe Genes program, studying innovative genetic techniques to control disease-causing mosquitoes.

Principle investigator Omar Akbari, an assistant professor of entomology, will lead a project to evaluate and advance a technique called a gene drive, which enables the introduction of specific genetic elements into a wild population in order to spread desirable genes and suppress harmful species. Although gene drives have been studied for decades, the recent availability of CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing techniques has revolutionized the development of these systems, the team said.

In their study, the group hopes to answer some of the unknowns surrounding the evolving approach by investigating the potential risks and benefits of using gene drives to control mosquitoes that carry infectious diseases including Zika virus, chikungunya, dengue fever, and yellow fever.

The initial focus will be on the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which spreads Zika virus, dengue, and yellow fever virus. However, any technologies that are developed may also be later applied to other mosquito species, the team said.