Fewer Female Mosquitoes, Less Malaria?

Genetic modification approach to control malaria-spreading mosquito populations incites conversations on the ethics of manmade extinction.

Jun 11, 2014
Tracy Vence

Anopheles gambiaeWIKIMEDIA, JAMES D. GATHANYResearchers have applied manipulated mosquitoes’ genomes to render the insects less able to spread malaria-causing pathogens. Now, an international team led by investigators at Imperial College London has created a population of genetically modified (GM) Anopheles gambiae that produces predominantly—greater than 95 percent—male offspring, limiting reproduction and, therefore, disease transmission. They published their work in Nature Communications this week (June 10).

“The research is still in its early days, but I am really hopeful that this new approach could ultimately lead to a cheap and effective way to eliminate malaria from entire regions,” study coauthor Roberto Galizi from Imperial College London said in a statement.

Luke Alphey, cofounder of the U.K.-based firm Oxitec, which works to control disease-spreading insects using other genetic techniques, told BBC News that the results of this latest lab study suggest researchers could wipe out A. gambiae entirely. “Humans have undoubtedly driven a very large number of species to extinction, but we’ve only deliberately done it with two: smallpox and rinderpest,” he said. “Would we want to do that with Anopheles gambiae?”

Study coauthor Nikolai Windbichler elaborated on this possibility, telling told Vice’s Motherboard: “. . . it is not likely that the loss of a particular mosquito species (among the many unaffected mosquito species) will have significant consequences for the food chain.”