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Genetically-modified mosquitoes may help eradicate malaria

Scientists rendered the insects incapable of spreading malaria to humans.

By
Stephen Feller
Scientists hope that creating mosquitoes that cannot spread malaria to humans will save some of the 1 million people who die of the disease every year. Photo by Kitsadakron_Photography/Shutterstock
Scientists hope that creating mosquitoes that cannot spread malaria to humans will save some of the 1 million people who die of the disease every year. Photo by Kitsadakron_Photography/Shutterstock

IRVINE, Calif., Nov. 24 (UPI) -- After thousands of years of malaria being one of the world's deadliest diseases, scientists have genetically modified a species of mosquito incapable of transmitting the disease to humans.

Scientists at the University of California's campuses in Irvine and San Diego inserted a DNA element into the Anopheles stephensi mosquito using the Crispr gene editing method. Crispr allows access to a cell nucleus to change DNA using a guide RNA targeted to highly specific spots marked for change.

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The research was tested earlier this year with fruit flies and the DNA change was inherited by the flies offspring at a rate of 95 percent, which was surpassed in inheritance in experimental changes with mosquitoes.

Crispr is increasingly being used by scientists for a range of genetic changes, including recent experiments seeking to make pig organs usable for human transplant.

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"This is a significant first step," said Dr. Anthony James, a professor of molecular biology and biochemistry at the University of California Irvine, in a press release. "We know the gene works. The mosquitoes we created are not the final brand, but we know this technology allows us to efficiently create large populations."

In order to confirm whether DNA changes had been successfully made in mosquitoes, researchers included a protein that gave mosquito offspring red fluorescence in their eyes -- which was detected in 99.5 percent of mosquito progeny.

James said further testing is needed to confirm the mosquitoes do not transmit malaria to humans, which could lead to eventual field studies with the insects.

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The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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