Malaria Resistant Mosquitoes: UC Irvine Scientists Create New Genetically Modified Mosquito

Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Could Help Fight Malaria

Researchers have created another model of a genetically modified mosquito that could help stop the insect from spreading malaria, according to a press release from the University of California, Irvine.

To create the model, Anthony James and his colleagues studied the molecular components in the immune systems of mice, which are able to produce antibodies that kill the malaria parasite, and then created new genes that could mimic that effect in mosquitoes.

"We see a complete deletion of the infectious version of the malaria parasite," James said in the press release. "This blocking process within the insect that carries malaria can help significantly reduce human sickness and death."

James, who is a professor of microbiology and molecular genetics, also said this is the first model of a malaria vector with a genetic modification that might be able to exist in wild populations and be passed down through generations, without the mosquitoes' fitness being compromised.

Mosquitoes are a popular insect for scientists to attempt to alter in labs because of their potential to spread not only malaria -- of which there were 216 million cases and more than 655,000 deaths in 2010, according to the CDC -- but also dengue fever and yellow fever.

In December, scientists at the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute were able to genetically rework the immune systems of mosquitos so that they'd produce higher levels of Re12 when they're feeding on blood; Re12 is an immune system protein innate to mosquitos that can help prompt an attack on the malaria parasite by anti-parasitic molecules.

Wired found enough examples of scientists modifying mosquitos to create a slideshow of techniques, including one method where researchers infected mosquitoes with a strain of bacteria that makes it so the dengue virus doesn't live as long within the insect.

Despite these advancements, concerns have been expressed about releasing these types of genetically modified insects into the population because of their potential effects on public health and the environment. In October, The New York Times tackled this issue when reporting on a study about the release of a strain of mosquitoes in Grand Cayman that had been modified to kill their own offspring to help control the spread of dengue fever.

And in November, Slate raised the issue of whether scientists know enough about the mating habits of mosquitoes to send modified ones out in the wild and have them out-produce their predecessors. On top of that, the article argued, there's always the chance that female mosquitoes will eventually just learn not to mate with the genetically modified males.

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