Solution to malaria: genetically modified mozzies that produce males

This article is more than 12 months old

Only female mosquitoes cause malaria. So, why not wipe out female mozzies so as to never face malaria again?

And some scientists have found a way to do just that.

Researchers from Imperial College London ​have found a way of genetically modifying mosquitoes to produce sperm that only creates males, offering a solution to fighting and eventually eradicating malaria.

The scientists tested a genetic method that distorts the sex ratio of Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes, the main transmitters of the malaria parasite, so that the female mosquitoes that bite and pass the disease to humans are no longer produced.

"For the very first time, we have been able to inhibit the production of female offspring in the laboratory and this provides a new means to eliminate the disease," said Andrea Crisanti, who led the research at Imperial's department of life sciences.

Letting the malaria-carrying mosquito population​ go extinct

Nikolai Windbichler, who co-led the work, said what was most promising about the results is that they are self-sustaining.

"Once modified mosquitoes are introduced, males will start to produce mainly sons, and their sons will do the same, so essentially the mosquitoes carry out the work for us," he said.

In their experiments, which took more than six years, the scientists inserted an enzyme called I-PpoI that cuts the DNA of the female-producing X chromosome during production of sperm, so offsprings produced will almost always be 95 percent male.

The hope is that if this could be replicated in the wild, this would ultimately cause the malaria-carrying mosquito population to crash.

"This is super cool work," said Michael Bonsall, a reader in zoology at Britain's University of Oxford. "It will be very exciting to see how this is now taken forward."

Malaria kills some 627,000 people worldwide each year, according to the World Health Organisation, and the vast majority of its victims are babies and children in sub-Saharan Africa.

"Malaria is debilitating and often fatal and we need to find new ways of tackling it," said Crisanti. "We think our innovative approach is a huge step forward."

- Reuters