Offer Malaria Hope
Where mosquito netting and bug
spray fail, European scientists are
turning to a unique solution to stem
the tide of malaria infection
worldwide : they're breeding boy
bugs that shoot blanks .
In a study release Monday in the
Proceedings of the National Academy
of Sciences, researchers in Italy and
the U . K. showed they were able to
genetically modify male Anopheles
mosquitoes so that they wouldn't
produce sperm . The bugs would still
produce seminal fluid, so mating
rituals would go on per usual , but
the fruit of coupling would be sterile
eggs that don't hatch.
" If mosquitoes [don' t] produce any
progeny ... the number of mosquitoes
in the wild will be reduced , eventually
reducing the chances of malaria
transmission , " says co- author on the
study Dr. Flaminia Catteruccia , of the
Imperial College in London.
Though there are thousands of
mosquito species , only a handful of
them can transmit malaria,
Catteruccia says, so targeting these
species has the potential to reduce
the spread of disease and is less
likely to negatively impact the local
The fact that the Anopheles species
of mosquito tends to be
monogamous only enhances the
effect , as those females who mate
with sterile males tended to not seek
out other , potentially virile mates.
Sterility may even prove a
reproductive boon for sperm- less
males , authors note, because making
sperm is energy -consuming, thus the
modified males may appear to be
stronger mates .
More than 225 million people
worldwide suffer from malaria. Each
year , nearly 800 ,000 people will die
from the disease, many of whom are
children living in Africa.
" Given the constant spread of the
disease, alternative approaches to
the use of insecticides are urgently
needed, " the study 's authors wrote.
Modifying Mosquitoes to Stem
Monday 's research is just the most
recent example of a number of
mosquito -modifying techniques
tested in the past few years in hopes
of limiting the mosquito population
or the bugs ' disease transmission
In 2009, Australian researchers used
a modified bacteria to cut the
lifespan of mosquitoes in half.
Researchers hoped this would
reduce the extent to which the bugs
spread Dengue fever , an infection
that afflicts tens of millions of people
each year and kills 20,000 .
Why might this work? Both Dengue
fever and malaria require time to
incubate within the bug before they
can be transmitted by a bite. This
means that shorter -living mosquitos
can still be a source of food and
serve their purpose in the ecosystem,
but they don' t live long enough to
pass on these diseases .
In 2010, between 2 ,000 and 3, 000 of
these short -lived mosquitos were
released into the environment in
Malaysia as a trial run for reducing
Dengue fever rates .
Other mosquito-limiting tactics have
included modifying males to be
unable to fly ( and who have offspring
who also cannot fly) and injecting
mosquitos with a special fungus that
is thought to reduce the bug's ability
to pass malaria to humans , even
when the bugs themselves become
The hope with these various
methods is that disease rates can be
lowered without negatively impacting
the surrounding ecosystems, which
often include several species of
insects and animals that rely on
mosquitoes for food .
Offer Malaria Hope