Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
London, United Kingdom (4E) – Scientists at the Imperial College London have succeeded, for the first time, in wiping-out an entire population of malaria-carrying mosquitoes in a laboratory using a gene editing tool to program their extinction.
Malaria sickened more than 200 million people worldwide in 2016 and killed nearly 450,000. It remains one of the deadliest of infectious diseases. The year 2016 marked the first time in over two decades that malaria cases did not fall year-on-year, despite aggressive and well-funded anti-malarial campaigns. Hence, the need for more technologies to combat malaria.
A genetic engineering technology called “gene drive” speeds-up evolution by propagating a particular suite of genes throughout a population. It ensures that an engineered trait is passed down to a higher proportion of offspring across many generations than would have occurred naturally.
Experimenting with the species “Anopheles gambiae,” scientists at Imperial College London manipulated a gene known as doublesex so that more females in each generation could no longer bite or reproduce. After only eight generations, there were no females left and the population collapsed due to lack of offspring.
“This breakthrough shows that gene drive can work, providing hope in the fight against a disease that has plagued mankind for centuries,” said lead author Andrea Crisanti, a professor at Imperial’s Department of Life Sciences.
Previous attempts by the same team and others to induce the genetically programmed extinction of mosquitos in the laboratory ran into “resistance” in the form of mutations that fought back against gene drive.
Crisanti said the next step will be to test the technology in a confined laboratory setting that mimics a tropical environment. “It will be at least five-to-10 years before we consider testing any mosquitoes with gene drive in the wild,” he said.
The doublesex gene targeted in the experiments is deeply “conserved,” meaning it formed tens or even hundreds of millions of years ago and is today shared by many insects with only minor variations.
“This suggests the technology could be used in the future to specifically target other disease-carrying insects,” said researchers.
Scientists not involved in the study described it as a timely breakthrough. They noted the traditional approaches to controlling mosquitoes (especially the use of insecticides) is becoming less effective, mainly due to the build-up of resistance,.
The new research, published in Nature Biotechnology, was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has poured close to $100 million into the development of gene drive technology with the aim of eradicating malaria.
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has also invested tens of millions of dollars.
Article – All Rights Reserved.
Provided by FeedSyndicate