Public Release: 

UCR scientists contribute to study that will help formulate new ways to combat malaria

Sequencing the complete genome of the mosquito Anopheles gambiae

University of California - Riverside

RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- In the Oct. 4 issue of the journal Science, scientists report the sequencing of the complete genome of the major and most efficient vector of human malaria, Anopheles gambiae. The new data can be used to improve control of malaria in the coming decades.

"Malaria afflicts humans both in mortality and morbidity," said Dr. Peter Atkinson, associate professor of entomology at the University of California, Riverside, and a co-author of the paper. "The economic cost to affected nations is immense. No vaccine has been developed for malaria and, due to a number of factors, the incidence of the disease is on the rise. Understanding the genetic makeup of the mosquito that transmits malaria will help with the design of new strategies to fight this disease."

Malaria, the most important parasitic disease in the world, is thought to be responsible for 500 million cases of illness and up to 2.7 million deaths annually, more than 90% of which occur in sub-Saharan Africa. Malaria is again on the rise in Africa, the continent hardest hit by the disease. Blood meals of Anopheles gambiae come almost exclusively from humans, its larvae develop in temporary bodies of water produced by human activities (e.g., agricultural irrigation or flooded human or domestic animal footprints), and adults rest primarily in human dwellings.

Besides Dr. Atkinson, two other scientists from UC Riverside, Dr. Peter Arensburger, a postdoctoral researcher, and Ms. Lisa Friedli, a graduate student in Dr. Atkinson's laboratory, are co-authors of the Science paper. The UC Riverside researchers analyzed the genome looking for one class of transposable elements, using, in part, facilities available within the UCR Genomics Institute.

The UCR Genomics Institute, established in 2000, provides researchers and students access to state-of-the-art tools for advanced studies in genomics, gene expression, proteomics, microscopy and bioinformatics. Research efforts are focused on insect genomics, plant cell biology/genomics, microbial genomics, mammalian genomics and bioinformatics.

"A transposable element is a sequence of DNA that is capable of moving around in the genome on its own," explained Dr. Arensburger. "It is believed to be a 'selfish' piece of DNA." By identifying these elements the researchers can then determine if the elements can be developed into useful gene vectors in this important pest species.

The UC Riverside contribution to the study took approximately five months in Dr. Atkinson's laboratory. The laboratory is now focusing on further developing these types of transposable elements with the long term goal of using them to prevent the mosquito from transmitting malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases.

The University of California's entomological research in southern California dates back to 1906. Over the years, the UC Riverside Department of Entomology has excelled in virtually all phases of entomological research and developed a scope of expertise unmatched by any other entomology department in the country. Today, the UC Riverside campus is on the cutting edge of advanced entomological research and features a unique new Insectary and Quarantine facility that permits the safe study of exotic organisms from around the world.

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The University of California, Riverside offers undergraduate and graduate education to nearly 15,000 students and has a projected enrollment of 21,000 students by 2010. It is the fastest growing and most ethnically diverse campus of the preeminent ten-campus University of California system, the largest public research university system in the world. The picturesque 1,200-acre campus is located at the foot of the Box Springs Mountains near downtown Riverside in Southern California. More information about UC Riverside is available at www.ucr.edu or by calling 909-787-5185. For a listing of faculty experts on a variety of topics, please visit http://mmr.ucr.edu/experts/.

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