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GM mosquito ‘targets malaria’

20th March 2007

Scientists believe that genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes could become the latest method of targeting the spread of the deadly disease malaria.

The GM strain of malaria-resistant mosquitoes outcompete their natural counterparts when fed malaria-infected blood, researchers from the John Hopkins University in Baltimore claim.

As such they believe that introducing GM mosquitoes (transgenic) into the environment could help to eventually replace natural mosquitoes.

The team studied mosquitoes carrying a transgene that prevents the malaria parasite from being able to infect them.

Equal numbers of natural and transgenic mosquitoes were allowed to feed on malaria-infected mice. After nine generations, 70 per cent of the mosquitoes were transgenic as they had a higher rate of survival and laid more eggs.

“These findings suggest that when feeding on [malaria-infected] blood, transgenic malaria-resistant mosquitoes have a selective advantage over non-transgenic mosquitoes,” the researchers write in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

They add that the study’s results have “important implications for implementation of malaria control by means of genetic modification of mosquitoes”.

However, when fed on normal blood the two types of mosquitoes performed equally well.

As only a small percentage of mosquitoes are exposed to malaria the scientists argue that further research is now needed to determine how transgenic mosquitoes could outcompete natural mosquitoes even when not exposed to malaria parasites.

The World Health Organisation estimates that malaria causes more than 300 million acute illnesses and at least one million deaths annually. In Africa it kills a child every 30 seconds.

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