There are certain regions in the world that suffer from the scourge of malaria, which kills more than half a million people per year. While there are certain malaria vaccinations to cure the infectious disease, the researchers at University of California, Irvine and San Diego have found a groundbreaking technology called ‘gene drive’ to create novel breed of mosquitoes, which could completely eradicate malaria from the world.
Malaria is spread by female Anopheles Stephensi mosquitoes that have been infected with parasitic bacteria from the genus Plasmodium. But now scientists have cleverly altered DNA of these infected mosquitoes, helping them to resist malaria. They’ve leveraged the controversial but highly effective CRISPR-9 gene editing technique. In this method, two ingenious genetic modifications are made onto mosquitoes’ chromosomes to make them malaria resistant.
One is a set of genes that eject antibodies to the malarial parasite harbored by the mosquito. Mosquitoes with these genes become resistant to the parasite, so are unable to spread malaria. The second modification is a set of genetic elements known as a gene drive. This modification helps these insects to propel the malaria-resistant genes to entire natural mosquito population.
After these modifications, the next step is to releasing just a few thousand of the lab-engineered ‘gene drive’ mosquitoes to mate with regular mosquitoes. Within months they’ll produce an entire population that’s unable to transmit the disease to people. However, the technology to create genetically modified malaria-resistant mosquitoes has even stirred a controversy. As scientists are worried that it could alter ecosystems in unpredictable ways. Moreover, they also need to figure out an effective way to breed out the vulnerable genes.
Although it seems to be a great idea to get rid of malaria for once and for all, but researchers have already accepted that still there are many technical, ethical and regulatory hurdles for getting it right. Plus, it won’t work unless the team is completely sure that they could handle it the way it was managed in the laboratory. Nevertheless, a faint ray of hope indicated that very soon this dangerous disease could be abolished straight form its root cause.