Using Mosquitoes to Fight Malaria

A genetically modified mosquito represents humanity’s single best chance to eradicate malaria on a global scale and save lives. Via Vox:

Somewhere between 438,000 and 720,000 people were killed by the parasite in 2015. Seventy-two percent of those were kids younger than 5, and nearly 90 percent were in sub-Saharan Africa. Many more people infected with malaria don’t die but suffer a painful and temporarily disabling infection nonetheless. In 2015, anywhere from 187 million to 222 million people were infected. That’s about 3 percent of all humans on Earth, every year.

We have eliminated malaria from the rich world; it used to be endemic to France just as it is to Mali today. And now, with CRISPR gene drives, we have the potential to wipe it out globally and save millions of lives.

CRISPR is a tool developed in the past decade that has made it dramatically easier to make precise edits to the genes of everything from viruses and bacteria to mosquitos and humans. Gene drives allow humans to change the genetic makeup of a species by changing the DNA of a few individuals that then spread the modification throughout an entire population.

In the case of malaria, the idea is to change the three species of mosquito most responsible for its transmission — Anopheles gambiae, Anopheles coluzzii, and Anopheles arabiensis — so that all their offspring would be male, effectively leading to the species’ extinction. Or you could just add a gene making them resistant to the malaria parasite, preventing its transmission to humans.

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