Environment

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Researchers Seek to Stamp out Malaria at the Source

June 23, 2008 01:40 PM
by Anne Szustek
Two separate research teams are working to genetically modify mosquitoes and the disease-causing parasites they carry. Other scientists remain skeptical.

30-Second Summary

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Some 300 million to 500 million people contract malaria each year, with 3 million of the cases fatal. Global campaigns to combat the disease have included heavy spraying with insecticide and distribution of mosquito nets to villages in sub-Saharan Africa, home to the deadliest strains.

Andrea Crisanti, who headed an Imperial College study in London, showed in 2005 that he could insert a gene into male mosquitoes that would make them glow green. Now, his team is working to develop male mosquitoes that are born sterile, as well as a variety that will be resistant to the parasite that causes malaria.

“If we do this right, the mosquitoes will get rid of malaria for us,” Crisanti told the Associated Press.

But Jo Lines, a malaria expert who has studied the disease in Tanzania, said that the parasite is adept at adapting to malaria-resistant mosquitoes.

In another study released on June 3, the parasite itself is the target of a gene modification.

A group of Danish and American researchers is looking into the removal of a gene in the parasite itself that would render it unable to produce oocysts, egg-like casings from which new parasites spawn. The team used a species of the parasite that causes malaria in mice for its study.

Some environmentalists are squeamish about the ecological ramifications. "Can't we just give mosquito nets to people instead of looking at these really complex technological fixes that mess with the very delicate balance of nature and evolutionary history?" inquired Gillian Madill of Friends of the Earth.

Headline Links: Mosquitoes, parasites undergo genetic modification

Background: Malaria

Reference: FindingDulcinea’s Web Guide to First Aid

Related Topic: ‘Global Warming May Promote Disease and Other Health Problems’

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