How Israelis help the world fight mosquito-borne diseases

A. K. Leichman,  ISRAEL21c,  2021.

Israeli scientists and entrepreneurs understand the problems and risks and have been developing a series of ingenious remedies to this growing problem. Prof. Philippos Aris Papathanos, head of Hebrew University’s Insect Genetics Lab, was awarded a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant to develop new genetic approaches for controlling malaria mosquito populations. “We’re building a modern variant of an old idea that has been around since the 1950s: to control mosquitoes by modifying and manipulating their genetics,” Papathanos tells ISRAEL21c. He explains that sterilizing and releasing individual male mosquitoes theoretically leads to the collapse of the population. But this tactic has proven difficult to upscale to the necessary level of a whole city, country or continent. Instead of sterilization, Papathanos’ lab is using cutting-edge CRISPR technology to modify male malaria mosquitoes’ Y chromosome so that they produce only male babies, and those sons inherit the altered chromosome. Over time, there will be no more females and hence no more disease-transmitting bites.“This method can suppress the population in a stronger way because the genes are designed to spread through the population. We don’t need to upscale if we make the system more efficient with the least number of insects released,” says Papathanos.

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