In the hope of finding a new way to fight malaria, scientists have used a spider gene to genetically engineer a fungus to produce a venom that can quickly kill mosquitoes.
The modified fungus was a highly effective mosquito killer in the first tests mimicking conditions in sub-Saharan Africa, where malaria remains a major public health problem, researchers reported [May 30] in the journal Science.
“We’re very excited,” says Raymond St. Leger, a professor of entomology at the University of Maryland who led the research.
But others worry the approach may be unsafe.
“Fighting malaria is something that everybody should do. But fighting malaria through genetic engineering is dangerous,” says Nnimmo Bassey of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, an advocacy group based in Nigeria. Bassey worries the fungus would inadvertently kill other organisms, such as other insects, upsetting fragile ecosystems.
St. Leger stressed that much more research is needed to further evaluate the fungus before anyone considers releasing the organisms in the wild. “Nothing is going to happen without the acceptance of the local people who would be exposed to the fungus, its benefits and any potential risks,” St. Leger says.
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