We brought you word yesterday that Florida residents were up in arms over a British company that intended to release genetically modified mosquitoes into the Keys region. The reason being that these mosquitoes would not be carriers of the particularly nasty Dengue fever. Florida residents were still skeptical and didn’t want any new species released that could damage the ecosystem. Well, there’s a new mutant mosquito on the block, but this one is aimed at Africa.
It’s no secret that malaria is the number one killer in Africa. Due to lack of cheap vaccines and territorial conflicts, the people who need help the most never get it. Scientists have now found a way that attacks malaria at its source – the mosquito’s stomach.
Malaria begins its life in the stomach of a mosquito. After biting a human, the parasite can work its way into the bloodstream of a person and begin to wreak havoc on their body. The genius solution is to introduce bacteria into the mosquito that specifically targets malaria. Technology Review explains how it works:
The malaria parasite, called Plasmodium falciparum, must complete a crucial part of its life cycle within a mosquito’s midgut before it can be transmitted to people. So bacteria in that compartment are well positioned to deliver antimalarial compounds. When the mosquito takes a blood meal—that is, when it bites someone—bacteria in the mosquito’s midgut also proliferate, thanks to the blood nutrients.
It’s during this stage in the parasite’s life that the bacteria triggered by the proliferation of blood can target the parasite and kill it. In studies performed by the scientists, they found that only 14 to 18 percent of the mosquitoes that were fed the malaria-killing bacteria became infected by the parasite.
The big question facing the scientists now is how to introduce this new bacteria into the wild. As they point out, people become touchy whenever the subject turns to genetically modified organisms. It has the potential to save a lot of lives, but it can also have adverse side effects. They must do more thorough testing before they can convince local governments that this is a good idea.