Editing the Genome of Mosquitoes

Date & Time

Wed, 11/04/2015
5:30-7:00 P.M.


UCSD graduate student, Valentino Gantz, and Professor Ethan Bier recently published a Science paper describing a new mechanism of “gene drive.” This is not just a matter of editing the genes of a single individual, but an opportunity to make a change that will drive incorporation of that change into all descendants of the original individual.

Their publication resulted in international interest because of the broad potential applications of this new technology, which could rapidly produce beneficial genetic changes. Others have argued that because of the risks and implications of such research the work should not even have been published. One of the more exciting prospects is that this this approach to gene drive could quickly change a population of mosquitoes so that it could no longer serve as a vector for malaria. How should we balance the benefits of limiting or possibly eliminating a disease that kills 1000 people a day against the possible disruption of an ecosystem?




Ethan Bier
UC San Diego

Ethan Bier is a professor in the section of Cell and Developmental Biology at UC San Diego. During the past 25 years at UCSD Dr. Bier has studied how secreted proteins known as morphogens subdivide the dorsal-ventral axis of the fruit fly embryo into neural versus epidermal regions and how such processes result in the formation of sharp boundaries. These are among the most conserved evolutionary processes. Dr. Bier has also used the common fruit fly to study mechanisms of human disease. Most recently, his group made a discovery allowing the conversion of heterozygous mutants to homozygotes that promises to revolutionize pest control, cancer treatment, HIV treatment and other maladies. Dr. Bier graduated Phi Beta Kappa as a Regents Scholar from UCSD in 1978 with degrees in Biology and Mathematics. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard Medical School where he studied regulation of immune genes in Dr. Allan Maxam’s laboratory from 1978-1985. He did his postdoctoral studies on development of the nervous system at UCSD with Drs. Lily and Yuh Nung Jan (1985-90) and then assumed a faculty position at UCSD in 1990. He is an Alfred P. Sloan and Basil O’Connor Scholar.

Valentino Gantz
UC San Diego

Valentino Gantz, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral researcher recently graduated from Biological Sciences at UC San Diego. During his time as a graduate student at UCSD, he studied the diversification of the fly wing morphological structure and its evolution at the molecular level. This project identified developmental differences between fly species, providing a new avenue to understand the links between DNA and the body plan of an animal.


During the course of his PhD program, Valentino conceived and tested a new application of the CRISPR/Cas system. The resulting technology, the mutagenic chain reaction or MCR, is a new method that allows MCR-type genetic elements to be propagated at double the expected frequency. In brief, animals heterozygous (one mutant copy) for an MCR element are converted to homozygous animals (both chromosomes mutant). This property holds great promise for basic research, insect borne diseases, crop pest control, and human applications. Valentino has also been involved with the UCSD Biosafety Committee in outlining the UCSD safety guidelines for the cautious use of the MCR technology and, among his colleagues, they are progressing towards the establishment of national safeguards.


Valentino obtained his Biotechnology Bachelor’s degree in 2006 from the University of Bologna, Italy. He continued with his Master’s degree in “Industrial biotechnologies” at the same university and finished his studies there in 2008.  During this period he worked as an exchange student at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies (La Jolla, CA) studying the biology of the telomeres in yeast.

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