Most people would probably prefer to see fewer mosquitoes rather than more. They buzz in your ear. They bite you. They transmit diseases. But now there’s a mosquito that may be worth having around: The genetically-modified insect is resistant to a malaria parasite, and could one day help stop the spread of the disease, researchers report in an issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Johns Hopkins scientists found that transgenic mosquitoes had a higher survival rate than their nontransgenic siblings when they fed on malaria-infected mice.
Given that malaria kills an African child every 30 seconds, controlling the disease is a high priority in the public health sector. But this research isn’t a silver bullet, as lead author Jason Rasgon told the AP.
“This was proof of principle,” Mr. Rasgon said in a telephone interview. “The next step would be to work in a system more epidemiologically relevant” but still in the lab.
“We're not anywhere near a field release,” he said.
Rasgon and his team will next move beyond mouse malaria and focus on engineering a mosquito resistant to human malaria. The eventual goal is to release such insects into the wild to replace existing mosquitoes. Along with other controls, such as spraying pesticides indoors and distributing bed nets, these measures might halt malaria from spreading.
But should the malaria-resistant mosquitoes ever thrive in the wild, we’re pretty sure we’ll have the same response to them that we do now: to squash as many of the annoying little bugs as possible.
Story by Alisa Opar. This article originally appeared in Plenty in March 2007. This story was added to MNN.com in July 2009.