Researchers are using CRISPR to alter mosquitoes so that they don't notice — and maybe don't bite — people, the New York Times reports. In addition to preventing itchy welts, this could protect people from diseases mosquitoes carry, it adds.
A team of researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the University of Washington used CRISPR-Cas9 to alter the mosquito gene encoding Op1, one of the most common rhodopsins in the eyes of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Mosquitoes, they note, use visual cues and other stimuli to identify targets after detecting CO2 plumes, such as from exhalations.
But as they report in Current Biology, this change had little effect on mosquitoes' ability to home in on their CO2-emitting targets. Similarly, altering the gene encoding Op2 had no effect. But, altering both genes simultaneously did. The researchers suspect that the elimination of both genes "decreases light sensitivity below a threshold required for vision-guided target recognition."
The Times notes the researchers have yet to test their CRISPR-altered mosquitoes on people, and the University of California, San Diego's Neha Thakre, who was not involved in the work, adds there that it would be interesting to know how these vision alterations affect mosquitoes' ability to find blood meals, as they have other senses they can use.