American Enterprise Magazine

A New Attack on Malaria?

by Howard Fienberg
September 2002

Malaria kills anywhere from 1 to 3 million people a year, almost all in the Third World. The death toll is projected to double in the next two decades. Discoveries that reduce its impact are likely to have vast implications for public health.

Recently, researchers genetically engineered a mosquito that is 80 percent less likely to pass on malaria to its victims. Previously, the spread of malaria could be countered only by using either drugs or pesticides. Mosquitoes can develop immunity to both, and the most effective kinds of pesticides (like DDT) make many governments squeamish.

Ito and his co-authors report that they added a gene to mosquitoes which prohibits malaria transmission from the point where a mosquito takes in its blood meal to where it ordinarily transfers the disease to its next host.

Released into the wild, such mosquitoes would be unable to transmit malaria and could thus stop epidemics. Nevertheless, the researchers find that the global problem of malaria has not been solved just yet. The unaltered mosquito selected for the experiments is native to India, leaving questions as to whether the alteration would work in different species of mosquitoes, and researchers conducted the experiments in a laboratory with mice, not humans.

Further testing will discover if the inserted gene will work against the human form of malaria or if a similar gene could be inserted with that form in mind.

Other genes could be added which would reduce the likelihood of transmission even further. Large, controlled trials in the field will be necessary to determine if the inserted genes will spread to the regular population of mosquitoes and survive.

Junitsu Ito et al., "Transgenic Anopheline Mosquitoes Impaired in Transmission of a Malaria Parasite," in Nature (No. 6887), 4 Crinan Street, London, England N1 9XW

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