Scientists giving mosquitoes the genetic tools to combat malaria

With science reaching the lofty heights it has, creating more mosquitoes was the only thing left to do. That's what researchers at John Hopkins Malaria Research Institute did: genetically engineered the Anopheles mosquito's own immune system to block the transmission of the malaria-causing parasite into humans.

My question: if we can genetically tinker with mosquitoes, why not make them not be able to bite me at all? But, I'm not scientist, just a lowly blogger. George Dimopoulos, who led the study, felt that creating mosquitoes that wouldn't transmit malaria was more important.

"The immune system of the Anopheles mosquito is capable of killing a large proportion — but not all — of the disease-causing parasites that are ingested when the mosquito feeds on an infected human," Dimopoulos said in a John Hopkins release. "We've genetically engineered this immune system to create mosquitoes that are better at blocking the transmission of the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum."

The immune system protein Rel2 is the mosquito's innate defense against malaria, and the scientists genetically engineered the mosquitoes to create more of it. This way, no new gene had to be introduced to the mosquito's DNA.

Yearly, the disease kills more than 800,000 people and affects more than 225 million folks around the world, so this advancement could theoretically save thousands of lives, if not hundreds of thousands.

The next step is releasing the mosquitoes — which seem to have no shorter lifespan due to the modification — and let them breed in the wild.

So the good news: less malaria.

The bad news: more mosquitoes.

(Note about the picture above: the "glowing" colored mosquito eyes aren't to make them look more scary (though it does do that), but rather it gives researchers at John Hopkins a quick visual identifier. The yellow-eyed bugger on the right, for instance, is a hybrid of the red and the green.)

John Hopkins, via Newswise

For the latest tech stories, follow DVICE on Twitter
at @dvice or find us on Facebook