GM Mosquito Could Help Eliminate Malaria - Scientists
Reuters- By Patricia Reaney
LONDON (Reuters) - European scientists have created the world's first genetically modified malaria mosquito that could one
day help to rid the world of the disease that kills an estimated 2.7 million people each year.
By inserting a marker gene into the species of mosquito that carries malaria, researchers at Imperial College London and the
European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany have come a step closer to creating a mosquito to stop the
spread of the disease.
``With what we have available it is theoretically possible to construct in the laboratory a mosquito which is resistant to malaria,'' Dr Andrea Crisanti, of Imperial College, told Reuters.
The scientists inserted an extra gene that produces a green fluorescent protein which distinguishes the transgenic insect from other mosquitoes and makes it visible under ultraviolet light.
The achievement means scientists may soon be able to substitute other genes that could make the malaria-carrying Anopheles mosquito produce antibodies to the malaria parasite or a resistance to it.
They may also be able to change the mosquito's behavior so it feeds on animals instead of humans.
``We think that within six years a mosquito will be created that is stable, safe and physically unable to transmit the
malaria-causing parasite,'' Crisanti, a molecular entomologist added.
The research reported in the science journal Nature has been hailed as a breakthrough in the battle against malaria which infects up to 500 million people a year.
``The announcement of stable germ line transformation of Anopheles mosquitoes represents a major breakthrough in the file of
molecular entomology,'' Dr Carlos Morel, a tropical disease specialist with the WHO and World Bank, said in a statement.
``The transformed green mosquitoes now signal a green light for more serious investment in the development of new approaches for malaria control,'' he added.
Most cases of malaria are caused by a parasite that is transmitted to humans by the female mosquito. The parasites enter the
bloodstream and travel to the liver where they replicate by the thousands.
The disease, which causes fever, muscle stiffness and shaking and sweating, is increasing because the parasite has developed a resistance to anti-malarial drugs.
Scientists have had difficulty in creating transgenic malaria mosquitoes because the mosquito egg hardens quickly, making it
difficult to inject the new gene into it.
``In order to circumvent this problem we tested a series of compounds for their ability to slow down the process. One compound proved very effective and allowed us to inject the embryos while they were still soft,'' Crisanti explained.
Crisanti and his colleagues believe transferring a gene that confers resistance to the parasite will be the winning strategy.
``What we want to do is spread the resistant gene through the transgenic mosquito,'' he added.