GM mosquitoes could breed to extinction, leaving malaria parasite no host

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(Credit: Enrique Dans, Flickr)

Kill the mosquito and you kill the disease. That is the usual approach to controlling malaria. And if done properly, it works. The problem is that the insecticides employed to do the killing destroy lots of other things as well.

An old dream of those who seek to eliminate malaria is thus a way of selectively killing only what transmits the parasite: mosquitoes of the genus Anopheles, most notably Anopheles gambiae. And that, more or less, is what is proposed by Nikolai Windbichler and Andrea Crisanti of Imperial College, London, in a paper in Nature Communications.

They think they have worked out how to stop A. gambiae females being created in the first place. That would break the chain of transmission in two ways: immediately, because it is only females that drink blood and so pass the parasite on; and in the longer term because without females a population cannot reproduce.

By transplanting the endonuclease gene into the genomes of male mosquitoes, and arranging for it to be active only during the process of spermatogenesis (so that other bodily functions are unaffected), the researchers create males which produce predominantly “male” sperm cells—about 95 percent of them carry Y chromosomes. Many of these will also carry the endonuclease, so the same thing will happen in the next generation. The upshot is that a population into which the modified males are introduced should get more and more male-dominated, and smaller and smaller.

Read the full, original article: X marks the spot

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