A team of scientists from the University of California have succeeded at breeding a host of mutant mosquitoes that are resistant to malaria, and cannot transmit the tropical disease to humans.
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The genetically modified mosquitoes were designed to be incapable of spreading malaria and then ultimately replace the mosquito populations causing havocs around the world.
The mutant mosquitoes are still being perfected in the lab and yet to be released into the wild.
Hacking into the mosquito’s own DNA, researchers were able to implant resistance gene via Crispr – a gene editing technique that is fast growing among genetic scientists.
And good enough, the genetically modified mosquitoes also transferred the resistance genes to their offspring after mating, giving scientists the assurance that the project would ultimately be a great success.
According to a report in the journal PNAS, the researchers experimented with the Anopheles stephensi, a type of mosquito common in India.
And surprisingly, the modified genetic code in the mosquitoes’ DNA was completely inherited across three generations of mosquitoes’ offspring, imbuing them with the antibodies needed to restrain malaria parasites.
The edited gene makes the mosquitoes a poor host for malaria parasite, and Dr. Anthony James together with his colleagues the same feat could be repeated in other mosquito species across the world.
Scientists have for long considered wiping out mosquitoes entirely and rendering them extinct to prevent malaria spread, but they fear the action may create unwanted and unforeseen consequences in human and insect ecosystems.
So they are left with the choice of finding a way to incapacitate mosquitoes and render them sterile until they eventually die out; and achieving this with altered and harmless breeds is the only option as is being tried out.
Genetically making mosquitoes sterile and incapable of transmitting malaria might not be the ultimate solution to the problem of health, but researchers think it is an added weapon in the arsenal for fighting them.
"It's not the finished product yet but it certainly looks promising,” said Prof. David Conway, a UK expert from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “It does look like the genetic editing works."
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About 3.2 billion people worldwide are at risk of malaria, and nearly 580,000 people die annually from the disease despite sleeping nets, insect repellents and effective insecticides.