Malaria is caused by a parasite called Plasmodium, which is transmitted via the bites of infected mosquitoes. The Anopheles species of mosquito is the only breed of mosquito that transmits the parasite to humans. According to the World Health Organization, about half of the world’s population is at risk. Every year, this leads to about 250 million malaria cases and nearly one million deaths
The strategies to reduce malaria transmission include mosquito-control measures, such as spraying insecticides inside houses and draining standing water where mosquitoes lay their eggs. Also, the mosquito bites can be prevented by using inexpensive mosquito nets and insect repellents. Unfortunately, these methods are becoming less effective as both mosquitoes and Plasmodium evolve ways to resist the toxic treatments. This means new ways of preventing malaria are sorely needed.
Now, new research has brought hope to all those living in regions affected by the disease. According to a study published in PLoS Pathogens, scientists led by Dr. Michael Riehle have managed to alter the mosquitoes’ genome in such a way that the Plasmodium parasite is no longer able to cause infection. The genetically-modified mosquitoes will still bite. However, they won’t leave behind Plasmodium, the malaria-causing parasite.
This advance could lead to the release of genetically-modified mosquitoes into malarial regions of the world to prevent the transmission of Plasmodium. But, to help with controlling the disease, the mosquito must first be proved safe for release into the wild and, second, must be given some advantage that renders it superior to natural populations so it can drive them out.
“The eradication scenario requires three things: A gene that disrupts the development of the parasite inside the mosquito, a genetic technique to bring that gene into the mosquito genome and a mechanism that gives the mosquito an edge over the natural populations so they can displace them over time,” said Dr. Riehle “The third requirement is going to be the most difficult of the three to realize. It would probably take at least a decade, if not more.”
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The original study published on July 15 in PLoS Pathogens is here.