Global Health Ideas

Finding global health solutions through innovation and technology

GMOs Created to Battle Malaria

It has just been announced that a research group at Johns Hopkins has created a genetically engineered mosquito (genetically modified organism) that is malaria resistant. This is a significant achievement that is not without some major concerns and challenges ahead. There have been several groups that for over two decades have been trying to create transgenic mosquitoes, or mosquitoes that can be genetically modified. I happened to work in one of these labs as an undergrad and it was one of my first formal introductions to public health. At the time we would inject mosquito eggs with altered genes that would hopefully confer insecticide resistance. It might seem funny to try to create a super mosquito that could not be killed by insecticide, but it was a way to tell unambiguously if the newly introduced gene actually was engineered into the DNA of the new generation of mosquitoes. The idea was that if we could introduce a new gene into a mosquito that was inherited from generation to generation in a stable fashion that did not weaken reproductive capacity and longevity, eventually we could use this transgenic technology to introduce a malaria resistant gene. Then of course someone would have to figure out how to release this altered “animal species” into wild. It was not until 2000 that a group was successful at creating a GM/transgenic mosquito. From the group that was the first to do this:

“After 15 years of trying to create a transgenic mosquito we have taken a major step forward. This is not a cure for malaria, but we now have the key missing tool – our holy grail. The development of this technique is crucial for scientists studying the biology of the mosquito and its interactions with the malaria-causing parasite.” From: European scientists have created the world’s first transgenic malaria mosquito, June 2000.

Now the next step has been taken, a GM mosquito that also is malaria resistant (to non-human malaria) through 9 generations:

March, 19, 2007 “Working with the mouse form of malaria — not the human type — Rasgon’s team was able to genetically engineer mosquitoes that were resistant to malaria. Starting with the same number of resistant and nonresistant mosquitoes, they found that after nine generations the resistant type made up 70 percent of the population — raising the possibility of replacing regular mosquitoes with resistant ones that don’t spread disease. We’re not anywhere near a field release. Now we need to turn their attention to working with human malaria and trying to engineer a mosquito resistant to that.” Full Story.

Just as with GMOs there probably will be significant controversy of releasing populations of genetically engineered mosquitoes into the wild, however it is still worthwhile producing this technology because a multi-pronged approach against malaria is certainly needed and this research may yield other clues about neutralizing malarial parasites.

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Written by Aman

March 20, 2007 at 5:50 am

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