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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tweaking Mosquitoes' Genes May Stop Spread of Malaria

Although a swift slap is the common defense against mosquitoes, scientists are now beginning to disarm the little zingers via genetic engineering.

The goal is to render mosquitoes immune to malaria and other diseases, ending their ability to transmit the disabling ailments to humans.

According to researchers working in England, Germany and Greece, they have succeeded in putting new genes into an important strain of mosquito, and then getting the genes to work properly.

"This is the first reliable system for germline transformation of a vector [carrier] of human malaria," Flaminia Catteruccia, Andrea Crisanti, Fotis Kafatos and four other researchers wrote Wednesday in the journal Nature. "We expect this technology to be successfully extended to the most important malarial vector, Anopheles gambiae."

Eventually, the idea is to make it impossible for malaria parasites to use mosquitoes as shipping and handling agents, blocking passage through the insect's gut and salivary glands, and then into people.

The research team experimented on the mosquito called Anopheles stephensi, a prominent carrier of malaria in Asia, especially India. The next step is to change the genes in another strain, A. gambiae, malaria's major vector in sub-Saharan Africa.

According to molecular geneticist Craig Coates, "Within the next five years a refractory [malaria-resistant] strain" of mosquitoes "will be produced," perhaps opening the door to malaria control.