Gene-edited mosquitoes might help fight malaria

Tinkering with mosquitoes’ genes to “drive” malaria-fighting traits through mosquito populations might be the next frontier in reducing the spread of malaria, according to two recent studies.

In one study, scientists in London modified mosquitoes’ genome to make females sterile; in another, a group at the University of California inserted DNA into mosquitoes that blocked the transmission of the malaria parasite through the insects’ bites.

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health malaria expert Flaminia Catteruccia commented on the techniques in a December 7, 2015 article in STAT. “There are pros and cons in both strategies,” said Catteruccia, associate professor of immunology and infectious diseases. Spreading female sterility to decimate the mosquito population might prompt another new species to start carrying malaria, she said. “If the final goal is malaria elimination, this strategy [of female mosquito sterility] may not be good enough,” she said.

As for the other strategy—which would block the Plasmodium falciparum malaria parasite from reaching mosquitoes’ salivary glands—Catteruccia said, “The issue is whether these will be 100 percent effective. In the lab, no single gene is 100 percent effective at eliminating plasmodium.”

Read the STAT article: Malaria kills a half-million Africans a year. Gene-edited mosquitoes might stop it

Learn more

Infection in malaria-transmitting mosquito discovered (Harvard Chan School release)

Malaria transmission linked to mosquitoes’ sexual biology (Harvard Chan School release)

New molecular target for malaria identified (Harvard Chan School release)