Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Could Combat Malaria, Scientists Say

Genetically modified mosquitoes could be used to combat malaria, scientists say.

ByABC News
January 8, 2009, 1:13 AM

June 19, 2008— -- LONDON (AP) - In a cramped, humid laboratory in London,mosquitoes swarming in stacked, net-covered cages are beingscrutinized for keys to controlling malaria.

Scientists have genetically modified hundreds of them, hoping tostop them from spreading the killer disease.

Faced with a losing battle against malaria, scientists areincreasingly exploring new avenues that might have seemedfar-fetched just a few years ago.

"We don't have things we can rely on," said Andrea Crisanti,the malaria expert in charge of genetically modifying mosquitoes atLondon's Imperial College. "It's time to try something else."

Malaria kills nearly three million people worldwide every year,mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. Millions of bed nets have been handedout, and villages across the continent have been doused withinsecticide. But those measures haven't put a significant dent inmalaria cases.

After a string of failed initiatives, the United Nationsrecently announced a campaign to provide bed nets to anyone whoneeds them by 2010.

Some scientists think creating mutant mosquitoes resistant tothe disease might work better.

"We still have a malaria burden that is increasing," said YeyaToure, a tropical disease expert at the World Health Organization.

"Under such circumstances, we have to investigate whethergenetically modified mosquitoes could make a difference," saidToure, who is not involved in the Imperial College research.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has found the work sopromising it has invested nearly $38 million into geneticstrategies to stop mosquitoes from transmitting diseases likemalaria and dengue fever.

"This is one of those high-tech, high risk innovations thatwould fundamentally change the struggle between humans andmosquitoes," said Dr. Regina Rabinovich, director of infectiousdiseases development at the Gates Foundation.

Mosquitoes bred to be immune to malaria could break thedisease's transmission cycle. "That is the nirvana of malariacontrol," said Rabinovich. "It would potentially transform whatthe field looks like."