Malaria is a preventable and curable disease, but it continues to persist because of problems in controlling and eradicating mosquito malaria vectors. To address this issue, scientists from the University of California developed a particular breed of mosquitoes that resisted malaria, creating a potential solution to stop its transmission.
Using the gene editing tool CRISPR, the researchers inserted a malaria-blocking DNA element into Anopheles stephensi mosquitoes' germ line. The gene was successfully passed on to 99.5 percent of the mosquitoes' offspring. This resulted in a breed of mosquitoes that resisted malaria and stopped its transmission.
"This opens up the real promise that this technique can be adapted for eliminating malaria," said study author Anthony James, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry and microbiology and molecular genetics at the University of California Irvine, according to a news release.
The gene editing technique was developed in collaboration with Ethan Bier and Valentino Gantz, biologists from the University of California San Diego, who developed a method that allows a genetic mutation to be transmitted through the germ line of fruit flies with a 95 percent inheritance rate. The same method was used with the mosquitoes.
James said further testing should be carried out before the system can be used in field studies. "This is a significant first step," he said. "We know the gene works. The mosquitoes we created are not the final brand, but we know this technology allows us to efficiently create large populations."
Since 2000, the number of people who have died from malaria has been reduced by 60 percent, thanks to the implementation of various control measures. However, 3.2 billion people from all over the world still face the risk of contracting the disease. As of November 2015, malaria deaths number 438,000 worldwide, with many of them occurring in the Sub-Saharan Africa region, according to the World Health Organization.
The study was published in the latest issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.