Imperial College London

Dr Roya E Haghighat-Khah

Faculty of Natural SciencesDepartment of Life Sciences

Honorary Research Associate







Sir Alexander Fleming BuildingSouth Kensington Campus





Publication Type

10 results found

Vitale M, Leo C, Courty T, Kranjc N, Connolly JB, Morselli G, Bamikole C, Haghighat-Khah RE, Bernardini F, Fuchs Set al., 2023, Comprehensive characterization of a transgene insertion in a highly repetitive, centromeric region of Anopheles mosquitoes, Pathogens and Global Health, Vol: 117, Pages: 273-283, ISSN: 2047-7724

The availability of the genomic sequence of the malaria mosquito Anopheles gambiae has in recent years sparked the development of transgenic technologies with the potential to be used as novel vector control tools. These technologies rely on genome editing that confer traits able to affect vectorial capacity. This can be achieved by either reducing the mosquito population or by making mosquitoes refractory to the parasite infection. For any genetically modified organism that is regarded for release, molecular characterization of the transgene and flanking sites are essential for their safety assessment and post-release monitoring. Despite great advancements, Whole-Genome Sequencing data are still subject to limitations due to the presence of repetitive and unannotated DNA sequences. Faced with this challenge, we describe a number of techniques that were used to identify the genomic location of a transgene in the male bias mosquito strain Ag(PMB)1 considered for potential field application. While the initial inverse PCR identified the most likely insertion site on Chromosome 3 R 36D, reassessment of the data showed a high repetitiveness in those sequences and multiple genomic locations as potential insertion sites of the transgene. Here we used a combination of DNA sequencing analysis and in-situ hybridization to clearly identify the integration of the transgene in a poorly annotated centromeric region of Chromosome 2 R 19D. This study emphasizes the need for accuracy in sequencing data for the genome of organisms of medical importance such as Anopheles mosquitoes and other tools available that can support genomic locations of transgenes.

Journal article

Garrood WT, Cuber P, Willis K, Bernardini F, Page NM, Haghighat-Khah REet al., 2022, Driving down malaria transmission with engineered gene drives, FRONTIERS IN GENETICS, Vol: 13, Pages: 1-17

The last century has witnessed the introduction, establishment and expansion of mosquito-borne diseases into diverse new geographic ranges. Malaria is transmitted by female Anopheles mosquitoes. Despite making great strides over the past few decades in reducing the burden of malaria, transmission is now on the rise again, in part owing to the emergence of mosquito resistance to insecticides, antimalarial drug resistance and, more recently, the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in the reduced implementation efficiency of various control programs. The utility of genetically engineered gene drive mosquitoes as tools to decrease the burden of malaria by controlling the disease-transmitting mosquitoes is being evaluated. To date, there has been remarkable progress in the development of CRISPR/Cas9-based homing endonuclease designs in malaria mosquitoes due to successful proof-of-principle and multigenerational experiments. In this review, we examine the lessons learnt from the development of current CRISPR/Cas9-based homing endonuclease gene drives, providing a framework for the development of gene drive systems for the targeted control of wild malaria-transmitting mosquito populations that overcome challenges such as with evolving drive-resistance. We also discuss the additional substantial works required to progress the development of gene drive systems from scientific discovery to further study and subsequent field application in endemic settings.

Journal article

Pondeville E, Failloux A-B, Simard F, Volf P, Crisanti A, Haghighat-Khah RE, Busquets N, Abad FX, Wilson AJ, Bellini R, Arnaud SM, Kohl A, Veronesi Eet al., 2022, Infravec2 guidelines for the design and operation of containment level 2 and 3 insectaries in Europe, Pathogens and Global Health, Vol: 117, Pages: 293-307, ISSN: 2047-7724

With the current expansion of vector-based research and an increasing number of facilitiesrearing arthropod vectors and infecting them with pathogens, common measures for containment of arthropods as well as manipulation of pathogens are becoming essential for the designand running of such research facilities to ensure safe work and reproducibility, withoutcompromising experimental feasibility. These guidelines and comments were written byexperts of the Infravec2 consortium, a Horizon 2020-funded consortium integrating the mostsophisticated European infrastructures for research on arthropod vectors of human and animaldiseases. They reflect current good practice across European laboratories with experience ofsafely handling different mosquito species and the pathogens they transmit. As such, theyprovide experience-based advice to assess and manage the risks to work safely with mosquitoes and the pathogens they transmit. This document can also form the basis for research withother arthropods, for example, midges, ticks or sandflies, with some modification to reflectspecific requirements.

Journal article

Galas A, Haghighat-Khah RE, Cuber P, Benavente M, Gorfinkiel D, Galas Set al., 2022, The Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Halting Sustainable Development in the Colca y Volcanes de Andagua UNESCO Global Geopark in Peru-Prospects and Future, SUSTAINABILITY, Vol: 14

Journal article

Alcalay Y, Fuchs S, Galizi R, Bernardini F, Haghighat-Khah RE, Rusch DB, Adrion JR, Hahn MW, Tortosa P, Rotenberry R, Papathanos PAet al., 2021, The Potential for a Released Autosomal X-Shredder Becoming a Driving-Y Chromosome and Invasively Suppressing Wild Populations of Malaria Mosquitoes, FRONTIERS IN BIOENGINEERING AND BIOTECHNOLOGY, Vol: 9, ISSN: 2296-4185

Journal article

Haghighat-Khah RE, Sharma A, Wunderlich MR, Morselli G, Marston LA, Bamikole C, Hall A, Kranjc N, Taxiarchi C, Sharakhov I, Galizi Ret al., 2020, Cellular mechanisms regulating synthetic sex ratio distortion in the Anopheles gambiae germline., Pathog Glob Health, Vol: 114, Pages: 370-378

Genetic control strategies aimed to bias the sex of progenies towards males present a promising new paradigm to eliminate malaria-transmitting mosquitoes. A synthetic sex-ratio distortion (SD) system was successfully engineered in Anopheles gambiae by exploiting the meiotic activity of the I-PpoI endonuclease targeting ribosomal DNA (rDNA) repeats, exclusively located on the X chromosome. Males carrying the SD construct produce highly male-biased progenies without evident reduction in fertility. In this study, we investigated the fate of X and Y chromosomes in these SD males and found that ratios of mature X:Y-bearing sperm were comparable to wild-type insects, indicating absence of selection mechanisms during sperm maturation. We therefore tested the effect of meiotic cleavage of both X and Y chromosomes in a lab-generated SD strain carrying rDNA on both sex chromosomes, showing fertility comparable to wild-type and a reduced male-bias compared to SD males in which only the X is targeted. Exposure of Y-linked rDNA to I-PpoI cleavage for consecutive generations rapidly restored the male-bias to typical high frequencies, indicating a correlation between the number of cleavable targets in each sex chromosome and the sex-ratios found in the progeny. Altogether our results indicate that meiotic cleavage of rDNA repeats, located in the sex chromosomes of A. gambiae SD males, affects the competitiveness of mature sperm to fertilize the female oocyte, thereby generating sex-biased progenies. We also show that the presence of rDNA copies on the Y chromosome does not impair the effectiveness of engineered synthetic SD systems for the control of human malaria mosquitoes.

Journal article

Alcalay Y, Fuchs S, Galizi R, Bernardini F, Haghighat-Khah RE, Rusch DB, Adrion JR, Hahn MW, Tortosa P, Papathanos PAet al., 2019, The potential for a released autosomal X-shredder becoming a driving-Y chromosome and invasively suppressing wild populations of malaria mosquitoes

<jats:title>Abstract</jats:title><jats:p>Synthetic sex-ratio distorters based on X-chromosome shredding are predicted to be more efficient than sterile males for population suppression of malaria mosquitoes using genetic control. X-chromosome shredding operates through the targeted elimination of X-chromosome-bearing gametes during male spermatogenesis, resulting in males that have a high fraction of male offspring. Strains harboring autosomal constructs containing a modified endonuclease I-<jats:italic>Ppo</jats:italic>I have now been developed in the malaria mosquito <jats:italic>Anopheles gambiae</jats:italic>, resulting in strong sex-ratio distortion towards males. Data are being gathered for these strains for submission of regulatory dossiers for contained use and subsequent field release in West Africa. Since autosomal X-shredders are transmitted in a Mendelian fashion and can be selected against their frequency in the population is expected to decline once releases are halted. However, any unintended transfer of the X-shredder to the Y-chromosome could theoretically change these dynamics: This could lead to 100% transmission of the newly Y-linked X-shredder to the predominant male-biased offspring and its insulation from negative selection in females, resulting in its potential spread in the population and ultimately to suppression. Here, we analyze plausible mechanisms whereby an autosomal X-shredder could become linked to the Y-chromosome after release and provide data regarding its potential for activity should it become linked to the Y-chromosome. Our results strongly suggest that Y-chromosome linkage through remobilization of the transposon used for the initial genetic transformation is unlikely, and that, in the unexpected event that the X-shredder becomes linked to the Y-chromosome, expression and activity of the X-shredder would likely be inhibited by meiotic sex chromosome inactivation. We conclude that a fun

Journal article

Haghighat-Khah RE, Harvey-Samuel T, Basu S, StJohn O, Scaife S, Verkuijl S, Lovett E, Alphey Let al., 2019, Engineered action at a distance: Blood-meal-inducible paralysis in <i>Aedes aegypti</i>, PLOS NEGLECTED TROPICAL DISEASES, Vol: 13, ISSN: 1935-2735

Journal article

Bernardini F, Haghighat-Khah RE, Galizi R, Hammond AM, Nolan T, Crisanti Aet al., 2018, Molecular tools and genetic markers for the generation of transgenic sexing strains in Anopheline mosquitoes, Parasites & Vectors, Vol: 11, ISSN: 1756-3305

Malaria is a serious global health burden, affecting more than 200 million people each year in over 90 countries, predominantly in Africa, Asia and the Americas. Since the year 2000, a concerted effort to combat malaria has reduced its incidence by more than 40%, primarily due to the use of insecticide-treated bednets, indoor residual spraying and artemisinin-based combination drug therapies. Nevertheless, the cost of control is expected to nearly triple over the next decade and the current downward trend in disease transmission is threatened by the rise of resistance to drugs and insecticides. Novel strategies that are sustainable and cost-effective are needed to help usher in an era of malaria elimination. The most effective strategies thus far have focussed on control of the mosquito vector. The sterile insect technique (SIT) is a potentially powerful strategy that aims to suppress mosquito populations through the unproductive mating of wild female mosquitoes with sterile males that are released en masse. The technique and its derivatives are currently not appropriate for malaria control because it is difficult to sterilise males without compromising their ability to mate, and because anopheline males cannot be easily separated from females, which if released, could contribute to disease transmission. Advances in genome sequencing technologies and the development of transgenic techniques provide the tools necessary to produce mosquito sexing strains, which promise to improve current malaria-control programs and pave the way for new ones. In this review, the progress made in the development of transgenic sexing strains for the control of Anopheles gambiae, a major vector of human malaria, is discussed.

Journal article

Haghighat-Khah RE, Scaife S, Martins S, St John O, Matzen KJ, Morrison N, Alphey Let al., 2015, Site-specific cassette exchange systems in the Aedes aegypti Mosquito and the Plutella xylostella Moth, PLoS One, Vol: 10, Pages: 1-16, ISSN: 1932-6203

Genetically engineered insects are being evaluated as potential tools to decrease the economic and public health burden of mosquitoes and agricultural pest insects. Here we describe a new tool for the reliable and targeted genome manipulation of pest insects for research and field release using recombinase mediated cassette exchange (RMCE) mechanisms. We successfully demonstrated the established ΦC31-RMCE method in the yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti, which is the first report of RMCE in mosquitoes. A new variant of this RMCE system, called iRMCE, combines the ΦC31-att integration system and Cre or FLP-mediated excision to remove extraneous sequences introduced as part of the site-specific integration process. Complete iRMCE was achieved in two important insect pests, Aedes aegypti and the diamondback moth, Plutella xylostella, demonstrating the transferability of the system across a wide phylogenetic range of insect pests.

Journal article

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