Despite effective anti-malaria methods such as insecticides, repellents and bed nets, Malaria-carrying mosquitoes kill approximately 400,000 people a year. About 3.2 billion people, almost half of the world’s population, are at risk of contracting the disease.

However, we might soon have a new weapon that could dramatically change this landscape.

Scientists in the United States say they have successfully bred a genetically modified mosquito that is able to resist malaria infection.

By using the controversial gene-editing method known as CRISPR, scientists at the University of California introduced a new “resistance” gene into the DNA of eggs belonging to a mosquito found in India (anopheles stephensi) in order to make it a poor host for the malaria parasite.

When the genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes mated, their offspring inherited the same resistance to malaria. The DNA codes that combat the parasite were inherited by almost 100% of offspring across three generations. The hope is that these GM mosquitoes can be released into the wild, where they will breed with normal mosquitoes and pass on anti-malarial genes, increasing the number of mosquitoes resistant to the malaria parasite.

Professor Anthony James at the University of California said:

This is a significant first step: the mosquitoes we created are not the final brand, but we know this technology allows us to efficiently create large populations.

Still, many have warned that while the genome-editing method could potentially save lives, accidentally releasing genetically modified organisms into the wild could have unpredictable ecological consequences.


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Author: José Santiago, Digital Content Specialist, Public Engagement, World Economic Forum

Image: A Culex quinquefasciatus mosquito is seen on the skin of a human host REUTERS/CDC/James Gathany