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article imageGenetically engineering mosquitoes to combat malaria

By Tim Sandle     Jun 14, 2014 in Science
A science group has proposed that introducing genetic engineering to eliminate the population of female mosquitoes is key to fighting malaria. Other scientists have expressed concerns about the ethics of species elimination.
Scientists based at Imperial College London has created a population of genetically modified mosquitoes (Anopheles gambiae). These mosquitoes produce predominantly (around 95 percent) male offspring. In theory this limits reproduction and, therefore, the transmission of malaria. The research builds on work that manipulates mosquitoes’ genomes to render the insects less able to spread malaria-causing pathogens.
Malaria is caused by a single-celled parasite belonging to genus Plasmodium. The parasite is transmitted by mosquitoes in territories in over 100 countries and presents a risk to about 3.3 billion people. Mosquitoes spread the parasite to humans through their bites; the parasite then travels to the liver, where it matures and reproduces in forms that infect the red cells and cause clinical symptoms. Mosquitoes carrying the malaria parasite are more attracted to human body odor compared with mosquitoes that do not carry the parasite.
The new research, to genetically modify mosquitoes to produce male offspring, has been published in Nature Communications. The research is headed "A synthetic sex ratio distortion system for the control of the human malaria mosquito."
The research is not supported by all biologists. Luke Alphey, who works to control disease-spreading insects using other genetic techniques, told BBC News that the results of this latest study suggest researchers could wipe out an entire species of mosquito. Alphey questions the ethics of this, and is quoted as saying: “Humans have undoubtedly driven a very large number of species to extinction, but we’ve only deliberately done it with two: smallpox and rinderpest,” he said. “Would we want to do that with Anopheles gambiae?”
More about Mosquitoes, Malaria, Genetics, Genetic engineering
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