A team of scientists in California is saying that they have developed genetically engineered mosquitoes that will never get infected by the malaria parasite. The scientists have managed to do this using a method which virtually guarantees that this trait will soon spread in a population.
To come up with this amazing discovery, scientists used a newly developed technique called gene editing. It’s a process that allows them to place a new DNA precisely to ensure that it offers exactly the effects desired.
The particular gene editing technique researchers used for this purpose is called CRISPR; this technique is known for allowing the newly introduced trait to spread quickly. Also, the process offers almost 100% guarantee that the new gene will pass on to the new generations.
Anthony James, a researcher representing the University of California in Irvine and the study’s lead author, said that the ability of the technique to pass on the new gene to the next generation is the main reason why scientists are hoping to adapt it for eliminating malaria.
James added that he and his colleagues know that this gene works, but informed that the mosquitoes genetically engineered by them are the not the final product. What they are, however, confirming at this moment is that the technology is allowing them to create huge populations efficiently.
Malaria is a big global concern. According to statistics provided by the World Health Organization, the parasite infected a total of 198 million people in 2013. Out of them, 580,000 people were killed by the parasite. What’s even more disheartening is that the majority of the individuals who died of the disease are children below the age of five years. There’s, of course, a vaccine, but it is not very effective and also not used widely.
Another alarming fact about malaria parasite is that it develops resistance to drugs pretty quickly. So, even now the main tools of fighting malaria are pesticides and bed nets.
Researchers so far have tried several techniques for reducing mosquitoes’ chances of transmitting malaria and a range of other diseases. The biggest hurdle they have faced in the process is that of finding a way to increase the population of the modified mosquitoes. The newly used gene editing technique seems to have solved that problem.