Man-made gene keeps mosquitoes from spreading malaria

Posted: Sunday, June 23, 2002

Mosquitoes carrying a man-made gene were largely unable to transmit malaria to mice in a new experiment, say scientists who suggest spreading such genes among wild mosquitoes could help control the deadly disease.

The gene blocks development of the tiny malaria parasite that grows inside the mosquito so it isn't passed along when the mosquito bites.

The work is reported in a recent issue of the journal Nature by a scientific team led by Marcelo Jacobs-Lorena, a Case Western Reserve University geneticist.

''It's a very interesting idea and a very fundamental scientific discovery,'' said Dyann Wirth, a Harvard microbiologist and director of the Harvard Malaria Initiative to battle the disease worldwide.

''From a public health point of view this may be a way to attack this disease without using chemicals like DDT or other insecticides,'' Wirth said.

Mosquitoes that receive the man-made gene would have to be released in the wild to get the gene into the insect population, which could raise political and social concerns, scientists said.

''We won't even eat transgenic corn let alone release transgenic mosquitoes,'' said Dr. Joseph Vinetz of the University of Texas Medical Branch and chief spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

He was referring to the nationwide recall of taco shells in the fall of 2000 after they were contaminated with genetically modified corn intended for livestock feed.

But modifying mosquitoes genetically could be a cheap, economic means of malaria control in the poor African and Asian countries where the disease takes the worst toll, Vinetz said.

In the research reported in Nature, two of three groups of modified mosquitoes were unable to transmit the disease to mice, and a third group of mosquitoes was only about 50 percent effective.


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