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 Biomedical research background © dra_schwartz - iStockphoto
cubed logo © British Council
Safer Mosquitoes
DNA Breakthrough
Every year 1,500 travellers return to the UK suffering from malaria. Caused by parasites spread by infected mosquitoes, malaria affects around 300 million people worldwide. Research on the mosquito’s DNA by an international team, comprising Imperial College London, and The University of Washington, Seattle, has lead to a major breakthrough, which could change how mosquitoes transmit malaria.

No taste for humans
The team focussed on how mosquito DNA is reproduced. Results show that a change to specific DNA can be reproduced over generations and spread from a small population to a greater one. By inserting enzymes that will target specific mosquito DNA at the moment of its formation, the cell’s repair machinery is activated. Using the enzyme as a template for the repair, generation-after-generation of new cells will copy the original enzyme.

The enzyme can be engineered to target genes involved in human recognition and interfere with the mosquito’s ability to recognise humans and direct it towards animals, for example, which do not have malaria. If mosquitoes don’t bite humans then they will not transmit malaria.

mosquito © Christopher Badzioch - iStockphoto

Changing reproduction
Another approach is to target genes involved in sex differentiation By impairing the ability of the genetically female mosquito to develop as female, the male-to-female ratio would be increased. This will have two benefits, firstly, the males do not transmit malaria and secondly, at a certain point an excess of males would cause a population crash.

The main challenge has been putting their groundbreaking research together. Professor Andrea Crisanti, head of the research group, explains that their main aim now is to ‘engineer this gene mosquito sequence to interfere with malaria development and transmission’ and secondly, they want to ‘assess large mosquito populations for the efficacy and scalability of the technology.’

The team are building huge laboratories, with an indoor release facility, to mimic the natural environment and then to reproduce a season and release the mosquitoes in the controlled environment. They plan within the next few years to be ready to release the human-friendly mosquitoes in the field.

LearnEnglish Science activities
Why not do a language activity based on this cubed story, Safer mosquitos? You can double-click on any word on this page for a dictionary definition.