Student Research Spotlight - Duverney de Jesus Chaverra Rodriguez

Posted: August 28, 2014

This is the 7th of twelve short news articles written by students, during the professional development class, about each other's research.

Mutant Mosquitoes, to the Rescue!
by Luca Franzini

We all dislike mosquitoes. The mere mention of these annoying little insects makes us itch, yet we rarely think about them as more than a summertime nuisance. Unfortunately, for millions of people around the world, especially in the tropics, they also represent a constant threat to their lives.

Coming from a tropical country himself, Colombian PhD candidate Duverney de Jesus Chaverra Rodriguez is all too aware of the danger these insects represent. As a member of Rasgon Lab at the Pennsylvania State University, he is dedicating himself to the development of new techniques to limit the spread of malaria. Mutated mosquitoes, which cannot carry the pathogen, could be his answer to the problem.

Tropical diseases are still widespread and cause a huge number of casualties every year. Yet, in Europe and North America, we perceive them as something that does not concern us. What we do not realise is that, if not kept under control, they could spread even into our countries.

Pesticides were once the first choice for keeping mosquitoes under control. Everyone remembers DDT, but few know about the awful side effects it had on wildlife and its potential harm to human health. “It is important to find a better way to control these diseases,” Duverney said. Genetic engineering is giving us a chance of doing so, but the methods still need to be perfected.

Mosquitoes need to be modified while still developing inside their egg. Current techniques involve injecting pieces of genetic material into the eggs, but this is very time consuming, costly and, sadly, not very effective. Scientists at the Rasgon lab are trying to do this better, with more efficient and affordable methods.

With the use of microinjections, and targeting adult females instead of eggs, they plan to modify large numbers of mosquitoes and use them to alter their populations in the wild, rendering them less likely to spread disease. The number of mosquitoes needed for this kind of approach is high, so making the whole process affordable will be an important part of their work.

There is still much to be done, but through hard work, laboratory and field trials, scientists are getting closer and closer to reaching their goal. Thanks to researchers like those at PSU, the eradication of mosquito-borne diseases is starting to feel a lot less like a far-fetched dream and a lot more like an impending reality.