20 November 2013
Rhodnius prolixus (pictured), also known as the ‘kissing bug’, is not as friendly as its name suggests. Its droppings can harbour the parasite responsible for the deadly Chagas disease, which affects more than seven million people worldwide. But now scientists have turned the insect’s excretions against itself. They’ve taken bacteria found naturally in the bugs’ gut, and genetically manipulated them to make a kind of RNA that can switch a particular gene off. Once re-ingested, the bacteria can silence targeted genes in the insect, for example, making Rhodnius incapable of laying eggs, halting their disease-spreading life cycle. But the researchers’ technique doesn’t stop at the kissing bug. In theory it can be applied to any insect with a known gut bacterium, offering a potential tool to target genes in malaria-carrying mosquitos or crop-damaging pests.
Written by Manisha Lalloo