A hopeful new breakthrough has been made via controversial means, as genetically modified mosquitoes could end malaria and spare millions of people from becoming infected. Researchers in the United States may have found a way to put an end to the disease through gene editing.
Scientists at the University of California-Irvine used the controversial CRISPR gene-editing technology to modify a mosquito’s ability to spread malaria. It’s an unfortunate condition that kills almost one million people each year, and infects between 300 to 500 million others. It’s especially prominent in African under-developed countries.
Even though there are treatments, they not accessible to all. And, even more, several reports have claimed that the parasite is actually growing stronger. Pending new medicine, the victim count could potentially rise even higher.
Using CRISPR Gene-Editing Tool
However, using gene modification, researchers believe they might find a way to prevent it. In order to test their theory, they inserted two modified mouse genes that are immune to malaria into a mosquito. By introducing them into the insect’s genome, they essentially stick themselves to the parasite. According to lead author of the study, and professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, this makes it impossible for the malaria parasite to recognize its host.
The Parasite Is ‘Blinded’
Be it the actual mosquito, rat, or perhaps even human, the parasite cannot move around properly. Effectively, the two genes “blind” it. Without proper “sight”, they will not find the mosquito’s salivary gland, and then it will be unable from transmitting it to humans through bite. Even more, James stated that this could even stop the parasite from being inherited by the insect’s progenies.
There is still controversy surrounding their method, because they are using the CRISPR gene-editing technique. It’s an innovative method that, simply put, works as a cut-and-paste method to remove or transfer genes from one to another. Its use in embryos had been described as ‘worrying’ earlier this year. That is why the team of researchers are being cautious with their approach.
Even if they do manage to find a way of making the mosquitoes unable to transmit the disease to humans or their young, there’s still an issue to be addressed. Putting genetically modified creatures into the wild could still arrive with severe or unpredictable consequences. It will take more research until it’s deemed as safe. According to James, this isn’t even their final “brand” of mosquito, but it’s certainly a step forward.
The final goal of the researchers, however, is that they will be able to release the genetically modified mosquitoes into the wild. And then, they will spawn non-malaria carrying younglings. Furthermore, it could also bring more legitimacy to the gene-editing method that not all have embraced, for moral reasons.
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