Researchers in Burkina Faso and the United States say they’ve taken a big step forward in potentially reducing Africa’s malaria risk, by successfully killing off mosquitoes using a technique that relies on genetic manipulation to make an existing fungus threat more lethal to them.
The researchers tested their theory in a screened-in village simulation set up in Soumousso in Burkina Faso, and found that 99 percent of the treated mosquitoes were quickly and safely eradicated. They published their results Friday in the journal Science.
The scientists built the 6,550-square-foot space called “MosquitoSphere” with areas containing experimental huts, plants, small mosquito-breeding pools and their food source. There, they divided adult mosquitoes into three groups of 1,500 each, two males to each female. Malaria is usually caused by parasites transmitted by the female, according to the World Health Organization.
Some got the genetically altered fungus, modified to produce a toxin found in the venom of the Australian Blue Mountains funnel-web spider. Some got the naturally occurring fungus, while a third control group was untreated.
After 45 days, there were 1,396 mosquitoes in the control group. There were 455 in the wild fungus group, but just 13 found in the group treated with the genetically modified fungus.
The findings are especially valuable as mosquitoes become more resistant to pesticide interventions, and the research teams say they’re safe for bees and other beneficial insects.
This first trial outside of a laboratory holds promise in fighting malaria, which killed an estimated 435,000 people in 2017 – and 93 percent of them were in sub-Saharan Africa, WHO says. Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Uganda and India accounted for nearly half of the world’s cases.
Image: University of Maryland/Etienne Bilgo