GM mosquitoes may be used to prevent transmission of malaria

Scientists have created a genetically modified (GM) mosquito that is almost incapable of transmitting malaria to humans. The development could lead to the release of GM mosquitoes into malaria regions to prevent transmission of one of the world's biggest killer diseases.

A team led by Marcelo Jacobs-Lorena, professor of genetics at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, engineered a species of the Anopheles mosquito family that was unable to pass on the malaria parasite in its saliva when it bit.

In a study published in the journal Nature today, the scientists inserted a gene into the mosquito's DNA to produce a protein that blocked the complicated life-cycle of the malaria parasite, reducing its transmissibility to humans by 80 per cent.

Professor Jacobs-Lorena said the protein prevented the malaria parasite from moving from the gut of the mosquito, where it replicated, into the salivary glands, from where it was injected into the blood of a human victim.

Malaria affects between 300 million and 500 million people each year and kills an estimated 2 million, many of whom are children living in Africa. It cuts economic performance by 1.5 per cent in the worst-hit countries. Increased drug resistance and a failure of other forms of mosquito control, such as insecticides, had allowed the disease to make a comeback in many parts of the world, Professor Jacobs-Lorena said.

"I think the value of this research is that it will provide an extra weapon. Drugs and insecticides exist and help, but they are not very effective because of resistance," he said. Further work would be needed before GM insects were released into the wild. "No approach is 100 per cent effective 100 per cent of the time. The more varied tools we have, the better it is," he said.

The GM mosquito appeared to be as fit and fertile as its natural counterpart, so one possibility was to release it into a region that had recently been sprayed, allowing it to replace the wild, malaria-carrying population.

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