Gene-driving mosquitoes to combat malaria, the downsides of using high-fat diets in mouse research and encouraging news from the Thanksgiving bird. This week in Abstract Science.
(Nature, 11/23/2015, Heidi Ledford and Ewen Callaway)
One of the biggest global scourges today is malaria, a deadly virus spread to humans by female mosquitoes of the Anopheles genus. About 3.4 billion people worldwide are at risk of malaria transmission and the World Health Organization estimates that in 2013 malaria caused 198 million clinical episodes and 500,000 deaths. Efforts to develop better treatments and an effective preventive vaccine have proven to be a major challenge for scientists, but they may be getting a bit of help from the enemy itself. In work published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, researchers from the University of California-Irvine used a controversial method called “gene drive” to ensure that an engineered mosquito can pass on malaria resistance genes to nearly all of its offspring. Previous work had shown that mosquitoes could be engineered to rebuff the parasite, P. falciparum but researchers lacked a way to ensure that the resistance genes would spread rapidly through a wild population. The scientists used a gene-editing system called CRISPR/Cas9, which has in turn prompted concerns that the tools and technologies are moving faster than science policy when it comes to using gene drive to engineer wild populations.
(The Scientist, 11/23/2015, Kate Yandell)
Mice who subsist on high-fat diets have been invaluable in the study of obesity, heart disease, cancer and diabetes. But with studies suggesting that fat is far from the lone culprit in human weight gain, and that carbohydrates play a hefty role, come questions about how well high-fat diets correspond to the human nutritional experience. “Mice are a good model for human obesity … but it seems to me that for diet, the mouse literature has gone off track,” says Craig Warden, who studies the genetics of body fat accumulation at the University of California-Davis.
(New Scientist, 11/23/2015 Lesley Evans Ogden)
Calling someone a turkey isn’t flattering. But the domesticated cousin of the wild turkey shows that this insult might actually be inaccurate as well. Meleagris gallopavo clawed its way back from the brink of extinction. And wild turkeys haven’t done half-bad either. While many other species are feeling the heat of climate change, wild turkeys are getting stronger. Despite hunting of wild turkeys and destruction of habitats that eradicated the birds in 18 of 39 US states and Ontario, Canada by the 1920s, wild turkeys have bounced back thanks to conservation programs that include relocation of whole turkey flocks to better habitats.
—Articles compiled by Senior Scientific Writer Regina McEnery