Fighting fire with fire: Genetically-engineered mosquitoes as an alternative to fight diseases

Fighting fire with fire: Genetically-engineered mosquitoes as an alternative to fight diseases

One of the most impressive inventions in 2015 was the genetically-engineered mosquitoes released into the environment to control the spreading of diseases. A study published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Disease last year claimed that scientists managed to reduce population of Aedes aegypti, a mosquito species that carry Dengue virus, by 95 percent in a year-long trial in Northern Brazil. The British Biotech company Oxitec who engineered sterile male mosquitoes released them into the trial field. When the mosquitoes mate with wild type Aedes, their young who carry a mutation will be killed even before they are able to reproduce or transmit the disease to human beings.

Recently, another team of researchers in UC San Diego has altered the DNA in Anopheles mosquito using the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing method so that they can fight and kill the parasites Plasmodium falciparum that cause malaria in their body. Published in PNAS, James et al‘s strategy appear to be a softer and more appealing choice. Among other things, James’ disease-fighting strategy emphasizes on making the insects resistant to parasite instead of simply killing them off. The next step would be to ensure that the malaria-resistance genes are passed down from each generation to the next, and that human beings are open to living peacefully with these genetically-engineered insects.

These groundbreaking pest control approaches would someday change our lives. However, precautions still need to be taken before these strategies are thoroughly evaluated and implemented. Meanwhile, scientists continues to work on vaccine development and cures for Dengue fever and Malaria to provide a total protection, in parallel to the genetically-engineered mosquito approach.

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1. Winskill et al. 2015. Plos Negl Trop Dis. 9(11)
2. Gantz et al. 2015. PNAS. 112(49): 6736-6743