A recent study conducted by the Imperial College London and published the journal Nature Biotechnology revealed that gene editing could be used to wipe out entire mosquito populations. The scientists tested their new method on Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes which are known to transmit malaria. The researchers employed gene editing on the insects’ gene called doublesex which determines whether a mosquito develops as a female or a male.
Employing gene editing, the scientists at the Imperial College London managed to block reproduction in the female mosquitoes leading to the death of the lab mosquitoes on which they conducted their trials.
“2016 marked the first time in over two decades that malaria cases did not fall year-on-year despite huge efforts and resources, suggesting we need more tools in the fight,” said Professor Andrea Crisanti from the Imperial College London.
After the scientists edited mosquitoes’ genes and created insects with two copies of the modified doublesex gene, they noticed that both male and females presented characteristics of both genders but did not sting or lay eggs.
The new gene editing method could be employed to wipe out mosquito populations in areas affected by these insects that transmit many diseases
According to the new study, as the modified genes spread across the mosquito populations kept in the lab by Imperial College London scientists, the entire community of these insects collapsed.
Now, the scientists plan to test their method on larger mosquito populations to estimate the gene editing efficiency in combating the substantial reproduction of these insects which are well-known for the diseases they transmit, including Zika and West Nile viruses, as well as malaria and other illnesses, especially across Africa.
“There is still more work to be done, both regarding testing the technology in larger lab-based studies and working with affected countries to assess the feasibility of such an intervention. It will still be at least 5-10 years before we consider testing any mosquitoes with gene drive in the wild, but now we have some encouraging proof that we’re on the right path,” concluded Professor Andrea Crisanti, the study’s leading author.