Glowing Mosquitos are Genetically Engineered to Prevent Malaria

Friday, 09 March 2018 - 8:16PM
Technology
Genetic Engineering
Friday, 09 March 2018 - 8:16PM
Glowing Mosquitos are Genetically Engineered to Prevent Malaria
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Dong Y, et al. (2018)
Every time CRISPR technology makes headlines, it seems like something straight out of science fiction.

Luckily, "malaria-resistant mosquitos" falls under the utopian type of sci-fi rather than anything dystopian, even if the full description of "glowing malaria-resistant mosquitos" is a little creepy. Either way, it's great news that a team of researchers has used the CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing technique to reduce the chances of mosquitos carrying the malaria disease, thus preventing them from transmitting it to humans.



According to a new study in PLOS Pathogens, scientists from John Hopkins University managed to deactivate a gene in Anopheles gambiae mosquitos called FREP1, which made them much less susceptible to infections from Plasmodium parasites. Normally, once Plasmodium enters the mosquito, it undergoes a series of steps before entering the bug's salivary glands and ending up in a bitten human, at which point it would cause malaria to set in.

But knocking out that one gene made it much more difficult for the Plasmodium to survive inside the mosquito. And when the parasite can no longer survive long enough to enter the mosquito's saliva, the risk of malaria infection in humans disappears, and the mosquito becomes a nuisance rather than a life-threatening risk (although there's plenty of other diseases the insect can still carry).

And because the researchers added a green florescent protein to track their gene edits, some of these mosquitos also glow.



The experiment isn't perfect. Gene editing always seems to have side effects, and the modified mosquitos are less fit than normal ones, meaning they wouldn't last long in the wild and would be prevented from spreading their Plasmodium resistance via natural selection. More work would need to be done before the mosquitos could be released into the wild.

On the other hand, other attempts to genetically engineer mosquitos have sterilized them in the hopes of minimizing the amount of mosquitos in the air, so making a species of mosquito more virile might be counterproductive when the alternative is simply cutting down their numbers.

After all, it's not like nature benefits from mosquitos in the same way it does from other insects like bees. Less mosquitos could be just as beneficial as harmless mosquitos.
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