Friday, July 16, 2010

Malaria-Proof Mosquito Developed

Researchers at the University of Arizona have introduced a new gene into mosquito populations that could end malaria- a disease that in 2008 caused nearly one million deaths, mostly among African children, and can reduce GDP by 1.3% in countries with high disease rates. For malaria to spread, a female Anopheles mosquito must first ingest the malaria parasite that is already present in an infected person. The parasite must then travel from the mosquito gut to the salivary gland, a two week process, before it is ready to spread to other human hosts. The Arizona researchers realized that if they could genetically shorten the lifespan of mosquitoes, malaria could be eradicated. They engineered the mosquitoes to have high levels of the active form of a protein called Akt, targeting a gene suspected to control mosquito lifespan and regulate its resistance to infection. The altered mosquitoes have a 20% shorter lifespan and parasite infection was completely blocked. The researchers are now working to ensure that the transgenic mosquitoes have a competitive advantage over the normal mosquitoes. Scientists are still assessing ethical concerns, but as the study moves forward an end to malaria appears to be on the horizon.

- Clara Hill

SOURCE: "Malaria-proof mosquito engineered" - BBC News, "Malaria" - WHO