In The News — 19 June 2014

Millions across the developing world may see one of their chief scourges become a thing of the past thanks to new advances in how Synthetic Biology can lead the fight against malaria. A research team at the University College of London has announced a revolutionary technique to minimize the reproductive capacity of female mosquitos, thus paving the way for the potential eradication of harmful populations of the insect. This potential revolution in epidemiology moves the technology far beyond current control mechanisms, mainly pesticides, which exhibit inconsistent effectiveness and harmful environmental contamination.

The University College of London approach focuses on curbing the ability of female mosquitos to reproduce, guaranteeing that new generations will be homogenously male and bring about complete collapse of targeted colonies. The utilization of synthetically produced enzymes with the purpose of X chromosomal modification can destroy populations of mosquitos historically responsible for the deaths of many millions of individuals. Scientists aim to use this enzyme method to generate millions of mosquitos in laboratory settings with the effective genetic changes and afterwards saturate mosquito populations in Malaria prone areas. On the surface the science is similar to a similar method for harnessing genetic engineering for the control of harmful populations of African Sleeping Sickness affected Tsetse flies, although for only a fraction of the cost.

The possibilities of this type of research are absolutely staggering. With Synthetic Biology becoming a more cost effective track for the fight against potentially deadly insects, the environmental wrath wrought by current methods can be dragged into a state of obsolescence. Without largely ineffective and contaminating insecticides the collateral damage now suffered in dealing with the spread of insect borne illnesses can become a vile memory rather than a harsh reality.

Read more about this study from The Conversation’s Sanjeev Krishna and the Imperial College of London’s study in Nature Communications Journal.

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Ron Kanter

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