US scientists say they have bred a genetically modified (GM) mosquito that can resist malaria infection.
They say that if the lab technique works in the field, it could offer a new way of stopping the mosquitos from spreading malaria to humans.
A new ‘resistance’ gene was put into the mosquito’s own DNA by scientists, using a gene editing method called Crispr. When the GM mosquitoes mated, their offspring inherited the same resistance, PNAS journal reports.
In theory, if these mosquitoes bite people, they should not be able to pass on the malaria parasite.
About 3.2 billion people are at risk of malaria. Bed nets, insecticides and repellents can help stop the insects biting and drugs can be given to anyone who catches the infection, but the disease still kills around 580,000 people a year.
The University of California team believe their GM mosquito could play a vital role in breeding resistant offspring to replace endemic, malaria-carrying mosquitoes.
They took a type of mosquito found in India called Anopheles stephensi to experiment on.
Dr. Anthony James and his team showed that they could give the insect new DNA code to make it a poor host for the malaria parasite.
The DNA, which codes for antibodies that combat the parasite, was inherited by almost 100% of the mosquito offspring and across three generations.
The researchers say the findings offer hope that the same method could also work in other mosquito specie. Although it would not be a sole solution to the malaria problem, it would be a useful additional weapon, they say.
Prof David Conway, UK expert from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: ‘It’s not the finished product yet but it certainly looks promising. It does look like the genetic editing works.’