Sterile mosquitoes may help fight malaria
Through genetic modification, males that shoot blanks could substantially reduce populations, cut infection rates.
Tue, Nov 17, 2009 at 07:55 PM
Malaria has long been a giant bummer of a disease for people living in tropical areas. It's estimated that each year, there are about 350–500 million cases, killing between one and three million people. The largest culprits are infectious female mosquitoes that bite people and transfer the disease.
As there is currently no vaccine for malaria, most areas rely on insecticides to hold back infections. Unfortunately, such actions only reduce a fraction of the mosquito population and often harm the environment and people they're supposed to protect. Even worse, as climate change affects the planet, the spread of malaria into regions once inhospitable to the disease is now a real threat.
In an effort to reduce populations without the use of chemicals, scientists are now proposing a more radical (and potentially controversial) step of genetically modifying male mosquitoes to be sterile. If applied, an entire generation of mosquitoes that shoot blanks would be sent into the wild. The real clincher for making this all work is that a female mosquito only mates once; effectively dooming all of her eggs should she choose a sterile mate.
"The SIT (Sterile Insect Technique) has proven highly effective over large areas when used against other insects," Dr Mark Benedict, editor of the study, told E! Science News. "We produced this supplement because we believe that the technique has been overlooked as an anti-mosquito method. Its efficiency in low vector-population settings precisely complements insecticide-treated bednets, indoor residual spraying and larval control: when they are at their weakest, SIT is at its strongest."
While numbers are not mentioned, I would imagine that even a low-density population of mosquitoes (say, around a resort) would require an army of sterile males. If it means less insecticide use and less infections — the idea has merit; especially since the GM males would only live a generation.
Then again, that's what they said about the dinosaurs in Jurrasic Park, and look what happened there.