A UC malaria initiative program receives grant for work researching genetically engineered mosquitoes

S. Slater,  The California Aggie,  2022.

Malaria, a mosquito-borne infectious disease, was discovered in 1880, and has remained widespread in tropical regions around the equator including parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America, resulting in thousands of deaths and a significant blow to economic development in these regions. Many of the attempted strategies to eliminate malaria in the past have planned to do so by eliminating mosquitoes entirely — but according to a recent press release, the Vector Genetics Laboratory (VGL) at UC Davis, in collaboration with a UC malaria initiative program that originally started at UC Irvine, and with the financial support of a $10.2 million grant from Open Philanthropy, is taking a different approach. “Mosquitoes are a part of the ecosystem,” Greg Lanzaro, project principal investigator and director at VGL, said. “Our strategy does not eliminate mosquitoes. The mosquitoes will still be there, they’ll just be incapable of transmitting malaria. In every sense these mosquitoes are normal mosquitoes, except for the fact that they can’t transmit malaria.” The idea is called a “population modification strategy,” Lanzaro said, explaining that groups at UC Irvine and Johns Hopkins University genetically engineered mosquitoes that are incapable of transmitting the malaria parasite. “The way that malaria is transmitted is that the mosquito bites a person who has malaria and it picks up the parasite in the blood that it feeds on,” Lanzaro said. “Then the parasite develops in the mosquito so that when the mosquito bites the next person, they spread the parasite. Our mosquitoes have been engineered with a couple of genes that kill the parasite inside of the mosquito, so they’re not able to transmit.”

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