By John Ouko
November 23rd , 2017,
Malaria Research Scientists have reported success in a study that could make mosquitoes unable to spread the parasite that kills more than 400,000 people every year, most of them being children under the age of five in the regions of the Sub-Saharan Africa
The two studies by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Malaria Research Institute could see malaria control strategies focus shifted from the traditional insecticides and bed nets interventions to the insect itself through a genetic modification of the bacterial strain that would strongly suppress the development of the malaria parasite, making the mosquitoes much less likely to transmit these parasites to humans.
The scientists further discovered that the immune system of a malaria-carrying mosquito could be genetically modified to boost it so that it not only suppresses malaria parasites in the insects but also spread quickly in a test population, by changing the mosquitoes’ mating preferences.
These genetic modification strategies would target the female anopheles mosquito so they are no longer capable of spreading the parasites to humans. This would be in addition to the traditional approaches of using Insecticide Treated bed Nets (ITNs) and the Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS).
These new findings could lead to developing bacteria and mosquitoes that would be released into mosquito populations in the wild, and would propagate on their own to reduce malaria transmission to humans in endemic areas.
The two papers were published in the September 29 issue of Science showed that boosting the mosquitoes’ immune genes also boosted their defenses against bacteria, reducing the normal bacterial load and altering the normal mix of bacterial species in the mosquito intestine and reproductive organs. This change in the insect microbiota in turn led to a change in mating preferences, such that modified male mosquitoes began to prefer unmodified, wild-type females, while wild-type males began to prefer modified females.
The DNA modifications only involved an alteration of the mosquito’s own gene activity, and not the introduction of foreign genes.
In Kenya, malaria remains a major cause of morbidity and mortality with more than 70 percent of the population at risk of the disease according to data from the Ministry Of Health in 2014. In the last 5 years, tremendous efforts have been made to combat malaria with prevention and treatment interventions such as mass and routine mosquito net distribution programs to attain universal coverage, intermittent preventive treatment for malaria during pregnancy, and parasitological diagnosis and management of malaria cases.