Scientists have engineered mosquitoes that slow the growth of malaria-causing parasites in their gut, preventing transmission of the disease to humans.
The genetic modification causes mosquitoes to produce compounds in their guts that stunt the growth of parasites, meaning they are unlikely to reach the mosquitoes’ salivary glands and be passed on in a bite before the insects die.
So far, the technique has been shown to dramatically reduce the possibility of malaria spread in a lab setting, but if proven safe and effective in real-world settings it could offer a powerful new tool to help eliminate malaria.
The innovation, by researchers from the Transmission:Zero team at Imperial College London, is designed so it can be coupled with existing ‘gene drive’ technology to spread the modification and drastically cut malaria transmission. The team is looking towards field trials, but will thoroughly test the safety of the new modification before combining it with a gene drive for real-world tests.
Collaborators from the Institute for Disease Modeling at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also developed a model that, for the first time, can assess the impact of such modifications if used in a variety of African settings. They found that the modification developed by the Transmission:Zero team could be a powerful tool for bringing down cases of malaria even where transmission is high.
The results of the modification technology in the lab and the modelling are published today in Science Advances.
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