Gene targeting would offer a number of advantages over current transposon-based strategies for insect transformation. These include freedom from both position effects associated with quasi-random integration and concerns over transgene instability mediated by endogenous transposases, independence from phylogenetic restrictions on transposon mobility and the ability to generate gene knockouts.
We describe here our initial investigations of gene targeting in the mosquito. The target site was a hygromycin resistance gene, stably maintained as part of an extrachromosomal array. Using a promoter-trap strategy to enrich for targeted events, a neomycin resistance gene was integrated into the target site. This resulted in knockout of hygromycin resistance concurrent with the expression of high levels of neomycin resistance from the resident promoter. PCR amplification of the targeted site generated a product that was specific to the targeted cell line and consistent with precise integration of the neomycin resistance gene into the 5' end of the hygromycin resistance gene. Sequencing of the PCR product and Southern analysis of cellular DNA subsequently confirmed this molecular structure.
These experiments provide the first demonstration of gene targeting in mosquito tissue and show that mosquito cells possess the necessary machinery to bring about precise integration of exogenous sequences through homologous recombination. Further development of these procedures and their extension to chromosomally located targets hold much promise for the exploitation of gene targeting in a wide range of medically and economically important insect species.