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Infertility gene in mosquitoes to curb malaria

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London: For the first time, researchers led by the Imperial College London, have genetically modified malarial mosquitoes so that they carry a gene that disrupts egg production in female mosquitoes.

They used a technology called “gene drive” to ensure the gene for infertility is passed down at an accelerated rate to offspring, spreading the gene through a population over time and raising the possibility of reducing the spread of disease.

Within a few years, the spread could drastically reduce or eliminate local populations of the malaria, carrying mosquito species.

The mosquito species Anopheles gambiae is a major carrier of malaria parasites in sub-Saharan Africa, where 90 per cent of annual malaria deaths occur.

Malaria infects over 200 million people each year and causes more than 430,000 deaths.

“Scientists have been trying to tackle malaria for more than 100 years. If successful, this technology has the potential to substantially reduce the transmission of malaria,” said study co-author professor Andrea Crisanti.

Normally, each gene variant has 50 per cent chance of being passed down from parents to their offspring.

In the team’s experiments with Anopheles gambiae, the gene for infertility was transmitted to more than 90 per cent of both male and female mosquitoes’ offspring.

The technique uses recessive genes so that many mosquitoes will inherit only one copy of the gene.

Two copies are needed to cause infertility, meaning that mosquitoes with only one copy are carriers, and can spread the gene through a population.

This is the first time the technique has been demonstrated in Anopheles gambiae.

The team targeted three different fertility genes and tested each for their suitability for affecting a mosquito population through gene drive, demonstrating the strength and flexibility of the technique to be applied to a range of genes.

“As with any new technology, it will be at least 10 more years before gene drive malaria mosquitoes could be a working intervention,” added professor Austin Burt from Imperial’s department of life sciences.

There are roughly 3,400 different species of mosquitoes worldwide.

“While Anopheles gambiae is an important carrier of malaria, it is only one of around 800 species of mosquito in Africa, so suppressing it in certain areas should not significantly impact the local ecosystem,” noted lead author Dr Tony Nolan.

The team aims to improve the expression of their gene drive elements. Exploring target genes is also helping the researchers to learn more about basic mosquito biology.

The results were published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.(ians)

(picture credit:upload.wikimedia.org)

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Shortage of Anti-Malarial Drugs Due to Usage in COVID-19 Treatment

Doctors Warn of Malaria Drug Scarcity

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Malaria COVID-19
Limited global stocks of two anti-malarial drugs could wreck plans to use the medicines, currently in clinical trials, to treat COVID-19. Pixabay

Limited global stocks of two anti-malarial drugs could wreck plans to use the medicines, currently in clinical trials, to treat COVID-19, doctors cautioned on Thursday. This is the latest health news.

Around the world, countries are expanding access to chloroquine (CQ) and hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), which are used to treat malaria and are known to have anti-viral properties.

The medicines have shown early promise against the COVID-19 illness in studies in France and China.

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CQ, which is the less toxic of the two, is also used as an anti-inflammatory to treat conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, purposes it is primarily known for outside the tropics.

Writing in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases, doctors in Italy — the country hardest hit by COVID-19 — said that limited supply could scupper any widespread attempt to use the two drugs against the virus.

Malaria COVID-19
Researchers at the Microbiology Research Facility work with coronavirus samples as a trial begins to see whether malaria treatment hydroxychloroquine can prevent or reduce the severity of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. VOA

“In some European countries the availability of HCQ and CQ in the pharmacies (outside the hospitals) is already scarce,” Francesca Romana Spinelli, assistant professor at the Sapienza University of Rome and letter author, told AFP.

“This is an emerging problem for many patients already treated with CQ/HCQ for their autoimmune rheumatic disease.”

Both medicines are known to have anti-viral properties and have shown some encouraging results in trials against COVID-19.

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But they have a number of potentially serious side effects, and there are fears that treating COVID-19 patients, many of whom are on medication for underlying conditions, could court disaster.

On Wednesday the European Medicine Agency warned that CQ and HCQ should only be used on COVID-19 patients in clinical trials or in case of a “national emergency”.

 

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In the letter, Italian doctors said using CQ and HCQ as widespread COVID-19 treatments would raise ethical concerns, given their known side effects.

“If mass prophylaxis was accepted as an option worldwide, this would raise the question of whether there is enough supply of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to support this approach,” they added. (VOA)