Scientists genetically modified mosquitoes to be malaria-resistant

By Money Times

Nov 26, 2015 08:06 AM EST

Scientists at the Unversity of California have created malaria-resistant mosquitoes to eliminate the insects' ability to transmit the disease to humans.

Using a gene-editing technology, they also ensure the mosquitoes pass on that resistant gene as they reproduce.

The study reported on EurekAlert conducted by inserting a DNA element into the germ line of Anopheles stephensi mosquito which is a leading malaria vector in Asia.

While genes normally have 50-50 chance of being inherited, the study has created a strain of mosquitoes that could pass a malaria resistance gene to about 99.5% of their offspring.

The scientists manipulated the mosquito's DNA by using a gene-editing technique called the CRISPR method.  This  powerful editing tool allows the scientists to insert genes into the mosquito's genome to confer malarial resistance.

The CRISPR method allows the scientists to package anti-malaria genes with a CAS9 enzyme and a guide RNA to create a genetic cassette.

The scientists then injected the genetic cassette into a mosquito embryo, targeted a highly specific spot on the DNA to insert the antimalarial antibody genes.

The researchers also included in the genetic cassette a gene that gave the progeny red fluorescence in the eyes to ensure that the element carrying the malaria-blocking antibodies had reached the desired DNA site.

Distinguished Professor of Molecular Biology&Biochemistry and Microbiology&Molecular Genetics at University of California Anthony James said that the study opens up the real promise that this technique can be adapted for eliminating malaria.

By modifying the insect's gene, the scientists could wipe out mosquito-borne diseases as these genetically modified mosquitos cannot transmit the disease to humans.

By ensuring that almost all the offspring born of a modified mosquito would have the ability to pass on the modified gene, malaria resistance mosquitos could spread through the population within a single mosquito breeding season.

According to US News, right now the mutant mosquitoes are kept in a secured lab. The scientists are still discovering on when and how it might be safe to try it in the wild.

Harvard's scientist Kevin Esvelt said that this technique will likely be effective to eliminate mosquito vectors of disease. He has urged the public to weigh in since no one knows how this genetic change might impact habitats.

However, NewsWire pointed out that the CRISPR gene-editing method has raised a number of ethical questions. Earlier this year, the scientists used the technique to modify human embryo  which created a firestorm of controversy.

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