Researchers find genetic weapons against malaria

People living in malaria endemic areas could be immunised against the disease.

This is after researchers came up with two potential ways of killing malaria parasites.

Two studies done by the researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Malaria Research Institute are highly promising genetic approaches against malaria.

According to the first study, scientists genetically modified mosquitoes to suppress the development of the malaria parasite so they were no longer capable of spreading the parasite to humans.

Senior author Marcelo Jacobs-Lorena, Professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said the modified bacteria do not seem to have an effect on mosquito lifespan or fertility.

This bacteria spread rapidly and persisted for several generations among malaria-carrying mosquitoes; the bacteria appear able to colonise the most common malaria-carrying mosquito species and suppress the most common forms of malaria.

He said the advantage of this feature is the lesser need to continuously apply malaria control measures such as insecticides and bed nets.

His team soon characterised these odd microbes as a strain of Serratia bacteria and dubbed them Serratia AS1.

He said they have been experiencing challenges developing genetically engineered bacteria that can infect mosquito populations and kill the malaria parasites the mosquitoes harbour, without harming the mosquitoes themselves.


However, experiment revealed Serratia AS1 to be almost perfect for the task.

The second study focused on whether mosquitoes that have been genetically modified to be more resistant to the malaria-causing parasite would become weaker and less able to mate and breed.

If modified mosquitoes are going to be used against malaria, the transformed mosquitoes must be as fit as wild ones and be able to pass on their genetic modification in large scale to future generations.

The study, led by mosquito vector biologist George Dimopoulos, found that one type of genetically modified mosquito not only bred well but became more attractive to normal mosquitoes.

Prof Dimopoulos took a group of genetically modified mosquitoes and a group of wild normal mosquitoes and locked them up together.

“To my surprise, the normal male mosquitoes preferred the genetically modified females, while the genetically modified males went wild over the normal females.

“Those mating preferences meant that within one generation, the mosquito population was becoming 90 percent genetically modified,” he said.

The results suggest the genetically modified mosquitoes would not just thrive but could possibly drive their genetic immunity to the malaria parasite into mosquito populations to which they are introduced.


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