New research: Scientists engineer mosquitoes that can’t spread malaria, offer hope of eradicating disease

Source: The post is based on the article “New research: Scientists engineer mosquitoes that can’t spread malaria, offer hope of eradicating disease” published in Indian Express on 6th October 2022.

What is the News?

Scientists have genetically modified mosquitoes to slow the growth of malaria-causing parasites in their guts — an advancement that can help prevent transmission of the disease to humans.

What is Malaria?

Malaria remains one of the most devastating diseases globally, putting at risk about half of the world’s population. In 2021, it infected 241 million people and killed 627,000 people.

It is caused by the bite of the female Anopheles mosquito (vector) if the mosquito itself is infected with a malarial parasite. 

There are five kinds of malarial parasites — Plasmodium falciparum, Plasmodium vivax (the commonest one), Plasmodium malariae, Plasmodium ovale, and Plasmodium knowlesi.

Click here to know more about the malarial parasites

What scientists have found?

The Malaria parasites develop into their next stage in the mosquito’s gut and travel to its salivary glands, ready to infect the next person it bites. Scientists have bioengineered the mosquitoes to produce compounds that slow the growth of malaria-causing parasites.

This genetically modified malaria-carrying species of mosquito in sub-Saharan Africa, Anopheles gambiae, produced antimicrobial peptides in its gut when it had a blood meal.

The innovation is so designed that it can be coupled with existing ‘gene drive’ technology.

Read more: Artificial light may become a new weapon in the fight to control malaria
What are the potential impacts of the findings?

The peptides impair the malarial parasite’s development and cause the mosquitoes to have a shorter life span.

The impact of genetically modified mosquitoes is found to be effective even where transmission is high. They dramatically reduce the possibility of malaria spreading in a lab setting, if proven in the real world it could offer a powerful new tool to help eliminate malaria.

What is Gene drive technology and how it can reduce malaria?
Gene drive
Source: Wikipedia

A gene drive is a natural process and technology of genetic engineering that propagates a particular suite of genes throughout a population by altering the probability.

Gene drive in combination with drugs, vaccines and mosquito control can help stop the spread of malaria and save human lives.

Gene drive would cause the anti-parasite genetic modification to be preferentially inherited, making it spread more widely among any natural population of mosquitoes.

Must read: Malaria Vaccine and India’s Malaria burden – Explained, pointwise


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