Created by genetic engineering, a mosquito that can't catch malaria

A novel weapon in the battle against malaria has been developed by scientists: the malaria-proof mosquito.

Researchers at the University of Arizona have created a genetically modified insect that is incapable of transmitting the disease to humans.

The advance could lead to the release of modified mosquitoes into malarial regions of the world to prevent the transmission of one of the world's biggest killers.

Malaria infects an estimated 250 million people a year and causes nearly a million deaths, mostly among children under five.

Michael Riehle, an entomologist who led the research said: "We were surprised how well this works. We were just hoping to see some effect on the mosquitoes' growth rate, lifespan or their susceptibility to the parasite, but it was great to see that our construct blocked the infection process completely."

The development potentially provides a new method of tackling the disease. Most efforts rely on controlling mosquitoes by spraying insecticide and using bed nets, or on treating victims with anti-malarial drugs.

Not all mosquitoes transmit malaria – only the female anopheles, of which there are about 25 species. They feed on blood and each time they bite an infected human or animal they ingest malaria parasites. These later migrate to the salivary glands and the disease is passed on in the next bite.

To break this life cycle, the Arizona scientists inserted a gene to enhance the action of the enzyme Akt which is involved in the mosquito's growth rate and immune function. The aim was to ramp up Akt function to help the insect's immune system fight off the malaria parasite, and to cut its lifespan, because mosquitoes only become capable of transmitting malaria towards the end of their lives.

"In the wild, a mosquito lives for an average of two weeks. Only the oldest mosquitoes are able to transmit the parasite," Dr Riehle said. "If we can reduce their lifespan, we can reduce the number of infections."

Studies showed that modified mosquitoes carrying two copies of the altered gene had lost their ability to transmit malaria altogether. However, to be effective in the battle to control malaria, the modified mosquitoes must be given an advantage over natural populations of the insects so that they can compete with and, over time, displace them. At present they exist only in high security laboratories with no chance of escape.

Dr Riehle said this was the hardest task. "It is going to be the most difficult to realise," he said, which is why it had been left to last.

Chris Drakeley, director of the Malaria Centre at the London School for Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: "Advances of this kind are very welcome because they help us understand the biology of the disease. But they are still a long way from helping with control. To do that they have to test if the fitter mosquito can drive out the existing ones. And then they would face ethical and community acceptance challenges – if you tell people you plan to introduce a new mosquito they are liable to respond 'not in my village'.

"It is still early days [for the malaria-proof mosquito]. We are considerably more advanced with the development of malaria vaccines. But we will need a variety of tools in the toolbox to tackle the disease everywhere – from urban India to the African savannah."

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

    £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

    Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

    C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

    C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    Day In a Page

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home