Genetically Modified Mosquitoes to Combat Malaria

A novel method to genetically modify (GM) insects could halt the spread of insect-bone diseases, such as malaria.

This technique involves circumnavigating a barrier that prevents the rapid spread of genes in a population. It has potential to spread genes though genetically modified mosquitoes that are resistant to malaria to block the transmission of the parasite to humans.

Currently, it has been demonstrated to work effectively in fruit flies. When GM fruit flies were bred with typical fruit flies, the mutated gene was found in approximately in 97% of offspring, rather than the average 1-in-3 in classical genetic processes.

Ethan Bier of the University of California, San Diego, has suggested this would mean malaria resistance would be able to spread completely within a single breeding season.

The procedure uses a new technique to edit genes, called Crispr. This uses an enzyme that cuts chromosomes and facilitates modified genes to be pass from chromosome to chromosome within the same organism.

Though strict safety control methods have been implemented to prevent accidental escape from the laboratories carrying out the research. Some concerns have been brought up by other researchers as the novel technique could be used to spread harmful genes.

George Church from Harvard University has commented saying; ““We have published methods by which gene drives can be kept confined not only by physical means but ecological and molecular methods. All of these should be employed especially with flying organisms and for organisms common in the wild near the lab”.

More information can be found at:
Image credit: Scott Bauer (fruit fly)

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