DEATH OF MALARIA: British university uses gene tech to stop female mosquitoes laying eggs
SCIENTISTS at a British university were celebrating major breakthrough in WIPING OUT MALARIA today after successfully altering the genes of mosquitoes which carry the deadly illness to stop females from reproducing.
Researchers from Imperial College London managed to wipe out an entire population of caged mosquitoes using a form of genetic engineering referred to as a gene drive, during a series of laboratory experiments.
If applied successfully malaria will go the way of smallpox and rickets.
The findings of their study, which is published on yesterday in scientific journal Nature Biotechnology, reveal their efforts to eliminate the insects in less than 11 generations.
Lead researcher Professor Andrea Crisanti, from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial, said: “2016 marked the first time in over two decades that malaria cases did not fall year-on-year despite huge efforts and resources, suggesting we need more tools in the fight.”
It was the first time gene drive had been able to suppress a population completely, overcoming resistance issues previous approaches have faced, Professor Crisanti explained.
He added: “This breakthrough shows that gene drive can work, providing hope in the fight against a disease that has plagued mankind for centuries.
“There is still more work to be done, both in terms of testing the technology in larger lab-based studies and working with affected countries to assess the feasibility of such an intervention.
“It will still be at least 5-10 years before we consider testing any mosquitoes with gene drive in the wild, but now we have some encouraging proof that we’re on the right path.
“Gene drive solutions have the potential one day to expedite malaria eradication by overcoming the barriers of logistics in resource-poor countries.”
Gene drives alter DNA, achieving genetic changes through multiple generations by overriding the biological processes which normally apply.
Malaria, which is carried by the Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes, killed between 445,000 and 731,000 people annually in 2016.
The vast majority of these people lived in Africa, according to World Health Organisation estimates.
In total, the figures suggested a total of 216 million cases worldwide.
The new technique specifically target Anopheles gambiae by altering a region of a so-called ‘doublesex gene’ in the mosquitoes, which is responsible for female development.
Males carrying this modified gene showed no changes, and neither did females with only one copy of it.
However, females with two copies had both male and female characteristics – they did not bite, but did not lay eggs either.
As a result, the populations collapsed as a result of a lack of offspring.
One of the reasons doublesex was picked for the gene drive target was that it was thought not to tolerate any mutations, overcoming this potential source of resistance.
In the study no functional mutated copy of the doublesex gene arose and spread in the population.
Professor Crisanti said the discovery offered hope to those battling the disease.
However, he added: “There is still more work to be done, both in terms of testing the technology in larger lab-based studies and working with affected countries to assess the feasibility of such an intervention.”