Researchers at Swansea University have now developed a novel robust gene silencing technology for insect vectors of disease. Insect vector-borne diseases place a considerable burden on human health and the economies of developing nations and the 3 emerging Third World Powers of India, China and Brazil. Indeed, the incidence of these diseases is spreading in part due to global climate changes and resistance to conventional insecticides. Moreover, the prospects for vaccine development to combat many of these diseases are not encouraging.
This new technology is a viable, cost-effective method of delivering RNAi (RNA interference) to populations of insect by infecting them with a bacterium that is a natural gut symbiont which expresses dsRNA targeting specific insect genes. The symbiont-mediated RNAi has been developed for the triatomine bug Rhodnius prolixus, the vector for Chagas disease, but is translatable to other disease vectors such as the tsetse fly Glossina Morsitans, the carriers of trypanosomes which cause sleeping sickness in humans and animal trypanosomiasis, also known as nagana. This technology is also targetable to control the larval mortality of globally invasive agricultural pests like western flower thrips Frankliniella occidentalis, the vector for plant poviruses that have developed a resistance to conventional chemical pesticides.
While the technology holds great promise for disease control, it is also a powerful new tool for the study of gene function. This technology opens up the possibility of highly targeted biocontrol which unlike conventional chemical insecticides that insect pests quickly evolve resistance to will not affect populations of beneficial insects such as pollinators.
A patent application is pending.
Inventors: Dr. Paul Dyson & Dr. Miranda Whitten