The project is initiating the evaluation and development of emerging genetic technologies for controlling invasive mosquitoes in Hawaiʻi.
Imagine a future where mosquito-borne diseases are no longer a threat. Biologist Jolene Sutton and her students at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo are developing genetic techniques that work as a kind of mosquito birth control.
“The project that they’re working on right now is starting the process to evaluate and also develop new emerging technologies for controlling invasive mosquitoes here in Hawaiʻi,” says Sutton. “My undergraduate students in our class are learning how to genetically engineer or genetically modify mosquitoes.”
Jared Nishimoto, a graduate student in the tropical conservation biology and environmental science program who is directing and training the undergraduates, explains that students conduct the process by lining up mosquito eggs on a microscope slide. This sets up the eggs for microinjections. “We have a very small, almost microscopic needle where we pierce the eggs and inject a solution with a certain gene of interest that we want to be integrated and expressed into the mosquitoes,” he explains.
Sutton says mosquito vector diseases are not something that native species here in Hawaiʻi had ever experienced in their evolutionary histories. “And so particularly our native bird species have never had any selective pressures, they’ve never had any opportunities to develop an immune response to the types of diseases that mosquitoes vector,” she says.
Sutton says the students get very excited because they know they are learning these new cutting-edge technologies that are going to help them get future jobs or careers in fields like biotechnology as well as in conservation.
“But our students are also really excited about this type of research because of the impacts that it could have to the local community here in Hawaiʻi,” she says.
About the producer of the video: Leah Sherwood, a graduate student in the tropical conservation biology and environmental science program at UH Hilo, is an intern in the Office of the Chancellor. She received her bachelor of science in biology and bachelor of arts in English from Boise State University.
About the videographer: Raiatea Arcuri, a professional photographer majoring in business at UH Hilo, is an intern in the Office of the Chancellor. He was awarded USA Young Landscape Photographer of the Year 2016 (read his blog post about the winning photograph).