GM fungus kills malaria mosquitoes

Henrietta Brewer
June 2, 2019

A fungus genetically engineered to express a spider venom can successfully control populations of malarial mosquitoes, a new study suggests.

Trials, which took place in Burkina Faso, showed mosquito populations collapsed by 99% within 45 days. The researchers said that the study is conducted to help stop the spread of the disease and not to cause extinction of the mosquito species.

Knowing that malaria kills more than 400,000 people a year and that Africa is one of the continents worst affected by this awful disease, trials of the fungus were carried out in a simulated village in Burkina Faso, one that replicated the normal conditions that mosquitoes would thrive in, complete with plants, huts and water and food sources for the mosquitoes.

According to the World Health Organization, there are around 219 million cases of malaria every year and around 435,000 people die from it annually.

ITIJ commends the diligent work of the teams at University of Maryland and IRSS research institute in Burkina Faso.

The next stage was to enhance the fungus.

"You can think of the fungus as a hypodermic needle we use to deliver a potent insect-specific toxin into the mosquito", said Raymond St. Leger, distinguished professor of entomology at the University of Maryland.

They set up a 6,550 square foot fake village called the MosquitoSphere complete with plants, huts, food and water sources for the mosquitoes in Burkina Faso. The village was also enclosed in a double layer of mosquito net to prevent the insects from escaping.

The fungal spores were mixed with sesame oil and wiped on to black cotton sheets. The mosquitoes would be exposed to the fungus once they land on these sheets. There were 1,500 mosquitoes used for the experiments.

Researchers from the University of Maryland in the USA engineered the fungus to deliver a toxin to mosquitoes.

The fungus naturally infects the Anopheles mosquito, which is the only mosquito genus which carries the disease, and its genetic code was edited so it would start making the spider toxin once it comes into contact with hemolymph, which is the insect equivalent of blood.

Other reports by iNewsToday