A new breed of malaria-proof mosquitoes has been created by scientists who managed to activate inherent genes within the insect to destroy the Plasmodium when it enters its system. Plasmodium is the parasite that causes the disease that infects millions every year in third world countries. Scientists postulate that the disease could be virtually wiped out if they manage to successfully deploy the modified bug into the world population. Check out the full story, with photos and video below!
The new and improved bug has a modified ‘Akt’ gene which moderates lifespan, growth rate, and immune response. As a result, the insect’s immune system destroys all types of Plasmodium, but has a slightly shorter lifespan than its unmodified counterparts.
“We were surprised how well this works,” said Michael Riehle, a professor at the University of Arizona and a co-author of the new paper. “We were just hoping to see some effect on the mosquitoes’ growth rate, lifespan or their susceptibility to the parasite. But it was great to see that our construct blocked the infection process completely.”
While the new malaria-proof mosquito may seem too good to be true, Riehle says it can handle every kind of Plasmodium.
“They have tested it on the most harmful of the malaria parasites, Plasmodium falciparum,” he said. “It is another step on the journey towards potentially assisting malaria control through GM mosquito release.”
But don’t get too excited just yet. While the new bug has no problem dealing with Plasmodium, scientists have no reason to expect that a batch released into the wild would replace the existing population. With no competitive edge against its counterparts and a shorter life span, the scientists certainly have their work cut out for them.
“We are at least a decade away from actually releasing mosquitoes into the wild,” said Riehle. “Before we do this, we have to somehow give the mosquitoes a competitive advantage over the disease-carrying insects.”
What is your first impression of the new malaria-proof mosquito? Some can’t help getting nervous whenever scientists tamper with genetics (Think “I am Legend,” or “Mimic”). Is this research risky? Or is this potentially life-saving work exactly what science should be doing? Let me know in the comment section! For more on the story, check out the video below!