Mosquitoes are a pain in the, well, wherever they get you. The little flying insects are known around the world as awful pests, but in some areas, they are feared for their potential to inject you with a disease that could kill you. Malaria kills around a million people each year, mostly children and mostly in Africa. Scientists have been working on the malaria problem for years, and have just announced a breakthrough that involves genetically alternating mosquito DNA to ensure that they block the deadly disease, instead of spreading it.
Research conducted by a team at the University of California showed it was possible to create mosquitoes that actually block the malaria disease rather than spread it. In mosquitoes, the malaria disease is actually carried by a parasite, which the insect passes on to its human victims. Scientists were able to insert genes which block the parasite, and they project that virtually all the insects’ descendants within a few generations would inherit the anti-malaria DNA. Ordinarily, a genetic change like that would take much more time to infiltrate the population (if it were successful at all, because even some new DNA characteristics can “go extinct” sometimes, as the above video describes). Ideally, since mosquitoes have an extremely short lifespan (about 10 days), it would only take a few months for the entire population to block the disease.
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The success in the lab is thanks in part to two recent developments in the field of genetic science. The research team was able to manipulate the mosquito DNA using CRISPR-Cas9, a powerful genome-editing tool that allows scientists to alter an organism’s DNA more quickly than anything before (and was inspired by the cloning of dinosaur DNA in the film Jurassic Park). The anti-malaria DNA experiment also relied on “gene drive,” a technique developed at Harvard University that rapidly spreads a trait through more of a population by overriding the conventional rules of inheritance.
The findings have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Via STAT News
Images via Ramón Portellano/Flickr and Wikipedia