Skip to main content

Gene editing could fight malaria by causing only male mosquitos to be born

What’s the theoretically easiest way to ensure that a population of mosquitos is not able to sustain itself through breeding? Make sure that there aren’t enough females, of course. That’s the exploratory approach being pioneered by researchers at the U.K.’s Imperial College London, who have developed a way of distorting the sex ratio in species of Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes to ensure that offspring are predominantly male. Over a relatively short period of time, this causes the population of mosquitos to collapse — and, potentially, halts one of the main vectors for spreading diseases like malaria as a result.

“Manipulation of sex ratio toward male is a long-sought dream for vector control,” Alekos Simoni, one of the researchers on the project, told Digital Trends. “[This] is predicted to be extremely effective in controlling mosquito populations, since only females bite and transmit diseases. Compared to previous ‘gene drives’ this new mosquito strain is predicted to be faster to spread, more robust to breakdown, less susceptible to resistance [with] none detected so far, less susceptible to fitness costs in females, and quicker to suppress malaria.”

Related Videos

Gene drives refer to tiny fragments of DNA that can be inserted into an organism’s chromosomes to trigger certain changes. In this case, the modification destroys the X chromosome during sperm production. A female requires two X chromosomes.

But while this work has been trialed in the lab, it has yet to be unleashed into actual mosquito populations in the wild. “The strain … has been proven very effective at suppressing populations of mosquitoes in small cages in a very controlled environment,” Simoni said. “No field studies were done, or are planned, in the near future for gene drive mosquitoes. Many more tests are required to further characterize the sex-distorter gene drive mosquitoes for efficacy and safety before moving the technology to the field.”

The team next hopes to test the approach in more complex environmental conditions, such as simulated tropical environments where more complex behavior like swarming can be observed. However, these studies are currently halted due to the pandemic emergency. It is not clear exactly when these experiments will be able to restart.

A paper describing the work was recently published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

Editors' Recommendations

Edit, undo: Temporary gene editing could help solve the mosquito problem

Mosquitos aren’t just a pest that nibble on you when you’re trying to get to sleep in the summertime; they’re by far the deadliest animals on the planet. According to the World Health Organization, mosquito bites cause the death of one million people each year. The majority of these are the result of malaria, one of the many human-affecting diseases these tiny bloodsuckers can carry.

For this reason, scientists trying to tackle these diseases have explored a range of potential solutions -- such as gene drives, referring to tiny fragments of DNA that can be inserted into a mosquito’s chromosomes to deplete populations in various ways.

Read more
AiroDoctor claims its four-stage air purifier can eliminate coronavirus
airodcotors four stage filter kills coronavirus airodoctor

As companies seek ways to introduce consumer-grade air purifiers that can kill the coronavirus, the main obstacle that has cropped up is the size of the virus itself. It is too small to be captured by most traditional filters, but AiroDoctor has introduced a commercially focused four-stage air purifier that uses a photocatalytic filter that it claims can destroy or neutralize viruses using UV LEDs.

The AiroDoctor uses a four-stage filter that can capture bacteria and viruses as small as 0.1 microns in size. It is capable of cleaning rooms up to 2,150 square feet with a single unit but runs at only 55 decibels. Because the AiroDoctor does not use UVC light, it doesn't produce ozone and requires no installation or HVAC integration in order to operate. This new technology means there are no dangerous byproducts from operating it, which is something that UVC filters have struggled to address.

Read more
We could soon be coughing into our phones to see if we have COVID-19
google search can now teach you how to pronounce tricky words speaker phone

Imagine if you could open an app on your smartphone and simply cough to discover right there and then if you have COVID-19.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) say they have developed such a method, which could be used as part of broader measures to get the virus under control.

Read more