Malaria, estimated to be responsible for at least 1.2 million deaths per year, has long known to be spread by mosquitoes. But scientists now think these pesky insects could also hold the key to its eradication.
Far be it for me to question the decision to attempt to genetically alter an entire population of insects when we have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA of exactly how they fit into the ecosystem, other than the fact that they spread malaria, but researchers at Imperial College London have trialled a new technique to inject mosquitoes with a gene that causes 95% of their offspring to be male.
Given that only females of the species bite humans, the technique could suppress or eliminate spread of the disease.
The technique works by shredding the paternal X chromosome, preventing it from being transmitted to the next generation, said authors of the study , published in the journal Natural Communications on Tuesday.
Unlike previous research to distort the sex ratio of populations, this technique is heritable, meaning it can be passed on from generation to generation.
“Under field conditions the accumulation of X chromosome damage would significantly contribute to the demise of target populations,” the authors said.
The scientific community has greeted the findings with cautious optimism, though it remains to be seen how the modified mosquitos would fare in the wild.
The threat of malaria looms large over about 40% of the world’s population, especially in impoverished tropical and sub-tropical areas, with between 350 and 500 million people believed to contract the disease annually. Young children and pregnant mothers are particularly susceptible.
Prevention methods include insecticide and mosquito nets over beds.