Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A new vector against malaria: GM mosquitoes?

Scientists have managed to develop a new breed of genetically modified malaria-resistent mosquitoes, which can drive out natural malaria-carrying insects.

Now it is being debated if this new vector for getting rid of malaria should be used. While it might sound like a no-brainer, it would be the first case of large-scale releasing of GM organisms into the wild. Before that can happen, it must be ensured that the relase can't have negative consequences. As the Guardian writes

Trials in sub-Saharan Africa, where malaria claims the life of a child every 30 seconds, could be conducted within five years, but scientists will first have to prove as far as possible that the resistance genes will not trigger a more aggressive form of malaria, or spread to other insects.


While the mechanisms behind the resistance to DDT in mosquitoes is different, it's a good example of what we are up against.

The NY Times, brings a Reuters story about it, which makes clear that there is still some work left, even if there are no problems with the new breed.

Jacobs-Lorena and colleagues studied the mosquitoes as they bred in cages. The mosquitoes were allowed to feed on mice that had been infected with P. berghei, one of the parasites that causes malaria.

[...]

P. berghei is not the most serious cause of malaria -- another parasite called Plasmodium falciparum is. But the researchers said their study shows the idea of using lab-engineered mosquitoes to battle malaria is a valid one.


I hope, and expect, that this will bring us much closer to getting rid of malaria.

For people with a subscription to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Online, the study can be found here: Transgenic malaria-resistant mosquitoes have a fitness advantage when feeding on Plasmodium-infected blood

And as a personal note to Dr. Egnor and his ilk, note how the concept of evolution and natural selection is the basis of this.

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