Paratransgenic control of vector borne diseases.
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Conventional methodologies to control vector borne diseases with chemical pesticides are often associated with environmental toxicity, adverse effects on human health and the emergence of insect resistance. In the paratransgenic strategy, symbiotic or commensal microbes of host insects are transformed to express gene products that interfere with pathogen transmission. These genetically altered microbes are re-introduced back to the insect where expression of the engineered molecules decreases the host's ability to transmit the pathogen. We have successfully utilized this strategy to reduce carriage rates of Trypanosoma cruzi, the causative agent of Chagas disease, in the triatomine bug, Rhodnius prolixus, and are currently developing this methodology to control the transmission of Leishmania donovani by the sand fly Phlebotomus argentipes. Several effector molecules, including antimicrobial peptides and highly specific single chain antibodies, are currently being explored for their anti-parasite activities in these two systems. In preparation for eventual field use, we are actively engaged in risk assessment studies addressing the issue of horizontal gene transfer from the modified bacteria to environmental microbes.