EPA Awards $750,000 to UC San Diego to Help Safely Develop Biotechnology Used Against Mosquito-Borne Disease
Research will Look at Health, Environmental Impacts in Hawaii, Pacific Islands
SAN DIEGO – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced $749,887 in funding to the University of California, San Diego, to develop an approach to understand and effectively monitor the dispersal of lab-generated sterile mosquitoes in the Hawaiian Islands. This biotechnology effort has the goal of eliminating the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the vector responsible for dengue outbreaks in the region and for carrying the Zika and Chikungunya viruses.
This grant is part of $3,041,583 awarded nationally to five institutions to develop science-based approaches to evaluate the potential human health and environmental impacts of new biotechnology products.
“EPA is proud to support some of California’s best student innovators working to find cutting-edge solutions to some of the most challenging environmental and health challenges facing our region, and the world,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Laboratory Services & Applied Science Division Director Duane James. “The ideas and projects spurred by this grant will help achieve lasting positive change for future generations.”
The University of California, San Diego will use this grant to generate tools and surveillance technologies to predict the behavior of lab-generated sterile mosquitoes in the Hawaiian Islands. Beyond the benefits of fighting mosquito-borne disease, this novel technology may also have positive environmental impacts by reducing insecticide usage, which can impact beneficial insects in the region. In the future, these tools could be applied to other Pacific Islands where disease outbreaks occur.
“Modern genetic editing tools give us the best chance to develop novel technologies that will safely and effectively suppress Aedes aegypti mosquito populations, which annually infect hundreds of millions of people,” said Omar Akbari, a professor of cell and developmental biology at UC San Diego. “The precision-guided sterile insect technique that our team is developing for Hawaii could eliminate the Aedes aegypti mosquito vector responsible for dengue outbreaks in the region.”
Each research team nationwide is receiving a grant of up to $760,000 through EPA’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Program. Their projects will lead to the development of tools and methods that allow decision makers to better understand and monitor how biotechnology products might impact public health and the environment before they are used or released into the environment.
The other four recipients are:
- Georgia Tech, Atlanta, Ga., to develop a method to track genetically recoded organisms and assess their impacts on natural microbes found in freshwater.
- University of Colorado, Boulder, Colo., to create software tools to quantify and predict the effects of synthetic microorganisms on local, native, microbial communities.
- Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., to develop an auto destruction switch for genetically engineered microorganisms and a system to ensure lab observations can match field predictions.
- Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, Mass., to test soils and natural soil microbes for their effects on synthetic microorganisms, and for potential containment functions.
For more information on EPA’s STAR recipients: https://cfpub.epa.gov/ncer_abstracts/index.cfm/fuseaction/recipients.display/rfa_id/663/records_per_page/ALL
For more information on EPA’s Chemical Safety for Sustainability research program