How genetically modified mosquitoes could eradicate malaria

S. Jones,  Nature,  2023.

Malaria is caused by Plasmodium parasites that are transmitted from person to person by Anopheles mosquitoes — often Anopheles gambiae, the primary vector in sub-Saharan Africa. Many approaches to malaria control focus on mosquitoes. Insecticide-treated mosquito nets and indoor spraying of insecticides, for instance, have played a massive part in malaria reduction. But still it persists. “We’ve had great success over the past 20 years, using the bed nets and spraying, but those tools are not going to be enough to eliminate malaria,” says Gregory Lanzaro, director of the Vector Genetics Laboratory at the University of California, Davis. Many researchers, including Lanzaro, are hopeful that part of the solution lies in altering the genomes of Anopheles mosquitoes. Scientists around the world are exploring how to make lasting changes to mosquito DNA that impair the insects’ ability to transmit malaria — either by making them less hospitable hosts to Plasmodium, or by interfering with their reproduction to reduce or eliminate mosquito populations. Interventions of this kind have been in development for decades, but their use in the wild could be now just years away. Ecological and ethical concerns, however, about how these modified mosquitoes will be monitored, and by whom, remain the subject of active and contentious conversation.

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