Malaria is a nasty disease, causing nearly one million deaths a year, mostly African children, and is transmitted by mosquitoes. Due to the vast number of mosquitoes around the globe, combating malaria is difficult.
However, recent research into using genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes is offering some hope. Researchers in the USA have created malaria-resistant mosquitoes using gene splicing techniques. Their paper, “Activation of Akt signaling reduces the prevalence and intensity of malaria parasite infection and lifespan in Anopheles stephensi mosquitoes” outlines how they:
“…demonstrate that tissue-specific overexpression of a single activated protein kinase that is essential to insulin signaling in the mosquito can dramatically reduce parasite development.”
Having created these malaria-resistant mosquitoes, the next challenge is introducing them, and their genes, into the wild population. This has potentially been solved by scientists at Imperial College London and the University of Washington, who published a paper in Nature, “A synthetic homing endonuclease-based gene drive system in the human malaria mosquito“. All sperm produced by male mosquitoes will carry this gene, resulting in malaria-resistant offspring. Initial lab results are promising, and after some more testing, these GM mosquitoes should be ready to be introduced into the wild!
Assuming people don’t object to GM technology… Onwards!