Scientists believe a new strain of mosquito that produces almost entirely male offspring could turn the tables in the fight against malaria.
In laboratory tests, 95% of eggs laid by the genetically-modified anopheles gambiae mosquito hatched into males.Introducing them to normal mosquitoes led to whole populations being eradicated because of the lack of females for breeding. It is thought replicating the work in the field could wipe out large numbers of malaria-carrying mosquitoes, or even lead to their extinction. Lead researcher Professor Andrea Crisanti, from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London, said: We think our innovative approach is a huge step forward. For the very first time, we have been able to inhibit the production of female offspring in the laboratory and this provides a new means to eliminate the disease. More than 3.4 billion people are at risk from malaria infection around the world and 627,000 die from the disease each year, according to the World Health Organisation. Most deaths occur among children in Africa, where the single-celled parasite spread by Anopheles mosquitoes claims one young life every minute. Since 2000, better prevention and control measures have reduced global malaria death rates by 42%, but efforts are being threatened by increasing numbers of insecticide and drug-resistant mosquitoes and parasites. The Imperial College team, whose work is reported in the journal Nature Communications, used molecular scissors to snip away a vital part of the mosquito s female X-chromosome. It took six years to develop the enzyme that does this but the scientists insist the research is still in its early stages. I am really hopeful that this new approach could ultimately lead to a cheap and effective way to eliminate malaria from entire regions, said Dr Roberto Galizi, another member of the team. Our goal is to enable people to live freely without the threat of this deadly disease.