Genetically Modified Mosquitoes May Reduce Cases of Malaria

21 April Print

Genetically Modified Mosquitoes May Reduce Cases of Malaria

Scientists hope to reduce the number of cases of malaria by changing the DNA of wild mosquitoes.

According to the World Health Organisation’s 2010 report, there are indications that some African countries (9) have stepped up measures to combat the disease through the procurement of antimalarial medicines through public health services. Still, access to treatment and the distribution of insecticide-treated nets remains problematic in all the countries surveyed over the past three years.  The report states that there was an estimated 243 million cases of malaria worldwide, which caused close to a million deaths; mostly among African children under the age of five.

Laboratory tests showed that researchers were able to make malaria-resistant genes spread from a handful of mosquitoes to the most of the population in just a few generations.

If scientists are able to create the right type of gene, then this has the potential to reduce the number of malaria cases.

Some researchers have already created the malaria-resistant mosquito. This was achieved by introducing genes to disrupt the malaria parasite’s development.

This new technology involves inserting the new gene into the mosquito DNA that causes all the sperm produced by a male mosquito to carry the gene. Then those offspring produce progeny with the self-same gene. Subsequently, the process is continually repeated.

Researchers face one great challenge, namely getting those genes to spread from the genetically-modified mosquitoes to the vast number of wild mosquitoes across the globe.

Academics have described the study as a “major step forward”.

Professor Andrea Crisanti, from the department of life sciences at Imperial College London, said: “This is an exciting technological development, one which I hope will pave the way for solutions to many global health problems.

Professor Janet Hemingway, from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, said: “This is however a major step forward providing technology that may be used in a cost effective format to drive beneficial genes through mosquito populations from relatively small releases.”

Dr Yeya Touré, from the World Health Organisation, said: “This research finding is very important for driving a foreign gene in a mosquito population. However, given that it has been demonstrated in a laboratory cage model, there is the need to conduct further studies before it could be used as a genetic control strategy.”

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