Modified Mosquitoes To Stop The Spread Of Malaria

New technique injects mosquitoes with a gene that results in mostly male offspring, eventually leading to a population crash

Scientists have come up with an ingenious modification that could cause the mosquito population to crash and make significant head way in stopping and eradicating malaria. The disease kills more than a million people each year, most of which are African children. In Africa there have been several different efforts to tackle the disease with bed nets and insecticides.

A team from the Imperial College London, who have created a new technique which involves injecting the mosquitoes with a gene that causes the vast offspring to be male. This would eventually lead to a huge decline in the population as females disappear. Almost like an apocalyptic film.

In the short term the new gene is going to effective as well as male mosquitoes don’t bite, so the spread of malaria will start to decline. Then in the long run this will help reduce populations substantially and with other tools such as insecticides, hopefully malaria would be eradicated.

The team from London injected mosquitoes with a gene from slime mould, a homing endonuclease called I-Ppol. This in turn attaches itself to the X chromosone during the male mosquitoes sperm making process. The results were that more than 95% of the offspring from the mosquitoes were male. The researchers also found that the new modified mosquitoes were mating with the wild mosquitoes, this produced more offspring and also passed the newly created gene on.

The biggest problem faced when releasing the mosquitoes in to the wild is will they compete with the existing males? Currently there is no evidence to think the trangenic males with not mate in the wild although they will find that the wild male mosquitoes are fitter. But the theory that this will work is still very pleasing. The researchers have attacked a multi copy gene rather than a single one, so the chance of the wild mosquitoes evolving to resist the new technique was limited however mother nature works in strange ways so nothing can be conclusive.

Director of GeneWatch UK, Dr Helen Williams has been critical of any previous GM mosquito research and warned of the consequences of crashing a mosquitoes population. She gave one example, reducing the population of one mosquito species can increase the population of other mosquitoes, so you can potentially make it worse. If you change an ecosystem and remove a species, another species often moves into that niche.

She said the decision on whether they should be used in the wild should be down to the people living in the countries where the engineered mosquitoes would be released.

Alex Carson

PiR Resourcing leaders in senior life science resourcing. For more news and information, you can follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn  For all our latest roles in the Life Science sector please click here.

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