A mosquito has been genetically modified so it cannot pass malaria on to humans – raising hopes the disease could be eliminated, Sky News reports. US scientists used a gene editing technique to alter the insect’s DNA – meaning it would produce antibodies that stop malaria being passed to people. Significantly, this trait was then inherited by 99.5% of the mosquito’s offspring.
Scientists described this as an “astonishing” result. The experiment could lead to modified mosquitos being released to breed – hopefully saving millions of human lives. There has been a 60% reduction in death rates since 2000, but malaria is still expected to claim 438,000 lives this year.
Lead researcher Professor Anthony James, from the University of California at Irvine, said: “This opens up the real promise that this technique can be adapted for eliminating malaria. “This is a significant first step. We know the gene works. “The mosquitoes we created are not the final brand, but we know this technology allows us to efficiently create large populations.”
A “cut and paste” gene editing technique called Crispr was used for the study. One intended consequence was that offspring had glowing red fluorescent eyes – allowing scientists to see at a glance which of them had the malaria-fighting genes. Work is still needed to confirm effectiveness before field trials can take place, the researchers wrote in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
They concluded: “Strains based on this technology could sustain control and elimination as part of the malaria eradication agenda.”