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Mosquito Genome Is Next

6 March 2001 7:00 pm
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Serial killer. Anopheles mosquitoes transmit malaria, which claims over a million lives every year.

PARIS--Scientists have agreed to collaborate on an eagerly awaited effort to sequence the genome of the mosquito Anopheles gambiae, the main vector for the malaria parasite in sub-Saharan Africa. Meeting at the Pasteur Institute on 3 March, representatives from 20 research centers in 12 countries started laying plans for the project. Like the rat sequencing project (ScienceNOW, 5 March), it will include Celera Genomics of Rockville, Maryland, and feature unrestricted public access to data.

Sequencing of the Anopheles genome is expected to begin in the next 6 months. Because some of the partners have already begun preliminary gene mapping and sequencing, a "rough draft" of the full sequence could be completed by year's end. The mosquito's 260 million DNA base pair sequence--together with the human genome and the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum now nearing completion--should open up new strategies for controlling the deadly disease, which kills some 1.5 million people each year, mostly African children. This genetic treasure trove will allow researchers "to get to the parasite at every possible level," says Fotis Kafatos, director of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg.

The initial sequencing and genome assembly should cost "significantly less than $10 million," says Kafatos, who initiated the project with Anopheles expert Frank Collins of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana (Science, 23 July 1999, p. 508). Additional funds will be needed to fine-tune the sequence and begin detailed analyses of the genes and their functions.

Together with the French gene sequencing center Genoscope, in the Paris suburb of Evry, Celera will perform the initial sequencing using the "whole-genome shotgun" approach it unleashed on the human genome. Other labs will pitch in for the final assembly and annotation of the genome, as well as analyzing the functions of the new genes discovered. While not all the financing is in place, the French government has pledged to cover Genoscope's participation in the initial sequencing. Celera has submitted a grant proposal to the U.S. National Institutes of Health to cover at least part of its costs.

Researchers who have campaigned for years to have the mosquito's genome sequenced are delighted that the big guns of modern gene technology will at last be brought to bear on Anopheles. "We are really excited," Kafatos says. "A unique global collaboration has finally crystallized."

Related sites
Background on the Anopheles project from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory
Genoscope's page about the project
Frank Collins's vector biology program at the University of Notre Dame

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