By Ingrid Fernandez, Staff Reporter
Scientists on California, United States, claim they have genetically modified a strain of mosquitos to prevent malaria infections.
The researchers claim they conducted the experiment to create mosquitos that cannot be infected by the malaria parasite and therefore, cannot infect humans with the disease.
Malaria is a prevalent disease worldwide. The disease threatens approximately 3.2 billion people. An alarming number of 200 million people were infected with malaria in the year 2013, with half a million of them dying of the disease. Scientists believe that the genetically modified mosquitos can significantly help to eliminate the disease.
The Ministry of Health (MoH) provides statistics that state the range of malaria in the country. The statistics state that, “Belize has made significant progress in the control of Malaria over the past years, having reduced the incidence from 540 cases in 2008 to 79 cases in 2011. This year, the Ministry is on track for another successful year, having reduced the number of cases to 33 in 9 communities, a drastic reduction from 2011 in which 27 communities were producing cases.” MoH still faces challenges to control and reduce the re-emergence of the disease in many communities.
The scientists went about mutating the mosquitos’ genes using a gene-editing technique known as Crispr, through which they inserted new malaria infected DNA. When the mosquito contract the parasites, it is unable to recognize its host, and cannot move into the salivary gland, where transmission takes place.
The Anopheles Stephensi breed of mosquito experimented on, is known to be the leading transmitters in Asian countries. Scientists believe that the same method worked on this breed can also work in other species.
Leader of the study, conducted at the University of California, Anthony James stated, “We know the gene works, the mosquitoes we created are not the final brand, but we know this technology allows us to efficiently create large populations.”
Scientists are optimistic that the mutated insects are not only unable to withstand and transmit malaria, but the genetically mutated breed carrying the pathogen-resistant trait has the ability to spread quickly, with mutated mosquitos passing on the new genes to 99.5 percent of interbred successive generations.
The successful experiment of gene-editing is celebrated by other scientists, namely, Professor David Conway, an expert from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Other scientists encourage even more daring experimentation to modify mosquitos to make them infertile so that in time they die out. This however, is discouraged by other experts as wiping out mosquitos may have unforeseen and unwanted repercussions.