Managing mosquito populations is a key component to reducing malaria rates, but as anyone who has spent a summer evening outdoors knows, these pesky insects can be tough to work against. However, a landmark study has found that genetically modified mosquitoes can be introduced to keep insect populations in check.
The researchers placed genetically modified mosquitoes in a controlled environment which replicates the conditions in sub-Saharan Africa where malaria is present. Genetic modification causes a deleterious mutation to rapidly spread through the population, wiping out the insects.
Years of research and collaboration with African governments will be required to determine if the release of genetically modified insects in the wild is safe and ethical, but for now, the researchers are confident that they’ve reached a breakthrough in terms of potential public health solutions.
The researchers have taken extreme precautions to ensure the mosquitos cannot escape lab conditions. They are being kept and tested in secure underground labs in the UK and Italy.
Some environmentalists have voiced concern over the unknown risks associated with genetically modifying insects, but hopefully, extensive further testing will rule out any potential dangers associated with the practice. For now, Jeantine Lunshof, a bioethicist at Harvard University tells NPR, “I think the benefits of it are so great, and I have not found convincing arguments that this would have considerable detrimental effects.”
Until the researchers confirm the efficacy of their work, other solutions like more effective malaria vaccines and targeted housing design measures are working to reduce infection rates in sub-Saharan Africa.
Source study: Nature Communications – Gene-drive suppression of mosquito populations in large cages as a bridge between lab and field
This story is part of our ‘Best of 2021’ series highlighting our top solutions from the year. Today we’re featuring health solutions.