Exploring Ways to Stop the Spread of Malaria




​Under the mentorship of Professor Peter Arensburger of Cal Poly Pomona's biological sciences department, undergraduate student Jenny McCarthy was part of an international team that sequenced and assembled the genomes of 16 species of mosquitoes, some of which transmit malaria to humans. It is estimated that in 2012, the disease sickened 200 million people and killed more than 600,000.

Dr. Arensburger runs a laboratory focusing on bio-informatic questions, such as the abundance and characteristics of transposable elements in invertebrates and the regulation of these elements by small ribonucleic acid (RNA) molecules. “There is a drive to try and modify these mosquitos artificially, that is, to try to genetically alter them so that they cannot carry diseases,” says Dr. Arensburger.

Future analysis of the genomes may produce clues as to why some species are more likely to transmit malaria than others, which could lead to better health practices and even to genetic engineering to prevent mosquitoes from spreading the disease among humans.

With funding from multiple sources, this massive project involved 72 institutions worldwide. Each of the 16 species studied contained between 10,000 and 17,000 protein coding genes. Previously, the entire genome was available for only the most infective species of mosquito, Anopheles gambiae.