The threat of malaria may have met it’s match thanks to American geneticists.
Researchers at UC San Diego said this week that they have produced a strain of mosquitoes whose genes will block transmission of malaria, with the long term impact of dramatically reducing malaria infections worldwide.
Through the use of gene editing, a technique where DNA can be inserted, replaced, or deleted from a specific genome, on the species that spreads malaria in urban parts of India (Anopheles stephensi), scientists inserted DNA into the cells that pass genes from generation to generation.
“It can spread through a population with great efficiency, increasing from 1 percent to more than 99 percent in 10 generations, or about one season for mosquitoes,” said University of California-San Diego biologist Valentino Gantz.
This created mosquitoes that product malaria-blocking antibodies – and those genes are passed on to 99.5% of offspring.
The research was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Another group of researchers created a modification that would have caused all mosquito offspring to be male, but fears of unintended consequences from eliminating a species has caused a less than enthusiastic response.
“In contrast, our much more flexible system only prevents mosquitoes from carrying malaria but can be used to do no harm to the mosquito. So it should generate the least amount of ecological damage,” said Ethan Bier, another UC-San Diego biologist. .
World Health Organization estimates show that 214 million people will be infected with malaria in 2015, with 438,000 deaths – making mosquitoes the deadliest animals on the planet for yet another year.