Using Porous Protein Crystals to Track Mosquitoes | AIChE

Using Porous Protein Crystals to Track Mosquitoes


Mosquitoes are disease-spreaders, transmitting pathogens like the West Nile virus and the parasites that cause malaria. But tracking where these blood-suckers hatch and how far they travel is no easy feat, making the elimination of disease-ridden populations a challenge.

Now, researchers have come up with a new solution: DNA “barcodes” embedded in porous protein microcrystals. Mosquitoes that eat these microcrystals as larvae retain the DNA in their guts as adults. By seeding certain breeding areas with the crystals, researchers can track where adult mosquitoes hatched and how far they flew before being trapped.

“We know which barcodes were placed in which place spatially, as well as what date they were placed there, so we can get some idea — when we catch the mosquito in a light trap later — where it came from and when it ate those crystals down to the resolution of a week,” says Rebekah Kading, an entomologist at Colorado State Univ. and the senior author of a new study describing the method in PNAS Nexus.

Making this possible are porous protein microcrystals developed by Chris Snow, a chemical and biological engineer at Colorado State Univ. Snow has long been developing these crystals as a sort of biocrystalline scaffold. Not only are protein crystals far more stable than individual proteins, he says, the crystals contain nanoscale pores capable of holding a variety of molecules. “We have this super-organized material,” he says, “and now we can decorate it with all the functional pieces that make it interesting.”

Snow and his team found that the...

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