Scientists in the US have created genetically engineered mosquitoes that are resistant to malaria.
The World Health Organisation estimates that almost half of the world’s population are at risk of malaria, with over 400,000 malaria deaths estimated in 2015.
A team of scientists from the University of California claim that the spread of malaria could be stopped by introducing genetically modified mosquitos into the wild.
The scientists used a gene editing technique called Crispr to introduce new genes into the mosquito’s DNA. The genes allow the mosquito to produce antibodies against the malaria-causing parasite Plasmodium falciparum, which is carried by the mosquito.
The genes were successfully introduced into hundreds of mosquitoes in the lab, and when they mated the genes were passed on to nearly all of their offspring.
Along with these genes, a ‘gene-drive’ was introduced to the mosquito DNA, which enables the genes to spread rapidly within a population.
It is therefore possible that these mutant mosquitoes could be introduced into malaria-endemic regions, breed with wild mosquitoes and spread the malaria-resistant genes within the population.
However, this would be the first initiative of its kind. Gene drives have never been introduced into wild populations so extensive trials will be required, both in the lab and in controlled wild environments to ensure no adverse effects on the natural ecology.
"This opens up the real promise that this technique can be adapted for eliminating malaria,” said Professor Anthony James, who led the research published in PNAS journal.
"This is a significant first step. 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."