Can Gene Editing Wipe Out the Mosquito?
Sunday, 30 September 2018
by 👩💻 Alice Monroe
Mosquitoes can be a nuisance – while the mildest variety can give you plenty to scratch about, the deadliest ones can pass on diseases such as Malaria. There was, of course, concern in recent years over their ability to transmit the deadly Zika virus – and since then, there have been ongoing studies into the pesky critters in lab environments. Last week, news has emerged that gene editing of certain types of mosquito can effectively stop them breeding dead in their tracks. But where will this research lead?
Researchers at Imperial College London found that a gene known as the doublesex could be altered – this is the essential mosquito gene that determines the gender of the animal in question – and that the Anopheles gambiae, a type of mosquito considered to be one of the most deadly, could effectively be prevented from reproducing outright. Professor Andrea Crisanti, leading a team to help find a feasible method of potentially controlling mosquito populations in the wild, reported that this gene drive, aided by the Crispr technique, was successful in cutting down the ongoing reproduction of the species.
Prof Crisanti’s team’s findings have been published in the latest Nature Biotechnology journal, which suggests that some form of effective technique in controlling the spread of Malaria from mosquitoes should be pursued. “2016 marked the first time in over two decades that Malaria cases did not fall year-on-year despite huge efforts and resources, suggesting we need more tools in the fight,” Prof Crisanti confirmed.
The study observed that while there were no visible changes to male or female mosquitoes carrying the gene which had been modified, females with two of the gene neither bit nor laid eggs – and showed signs of both genders. It’s thought that reproduction crashed entirely within 7 to 11 generations, indicating that, in at least a caged environment, mosquito reproduction could be curbed.
“There is still more work to be done,” Prof Crisanti stated, “Both in terms of testing the technology in larger, lab-based studies and working with affected countries to assess the feasibility of such an intervention.”
“It will still be at least 5 to 10 years before we consider testing any mosquitoes with gene drive in the wild, but now we have some encouraging proof that we’re on the right path. (…) Gene drive solutions have the potential one day to expedite Malaria eradication by overcoming the barriers of logistics in resource-poor countries.”
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