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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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WHO Certifies Argentina and Algeria as Malaria-Free Countries

WHO says Algeria's and Argentina's unwavering commitment, perseverance and success in combating malaria should serve as a model for other countries

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FILE - A worker of sprays the walls of a house with insecticide against mosquitoes, in Ghana, May 2, 2018. VOA

The World Health Organization has certified Algeria and Argentina as malaria-free, following three consecutive years where no new cases of the deadly disease have been reported.

The malaria parasite, which kills more than 400,000 people each year, was discovered in Algeria in 1880. Most of the victims are children under the age of five in Africa.

The World Health Organization reports Algeria is the second country in Africa to be recognized as malaria-free after Mauritius, which was certified in 1973. Argentina is the second country in South America, after Paraguay, to be declared malaria-free.

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FILE – Two children stricken with malaria rest at the local hospital in the small village of Walikale, Congo. VOA

A combination of many factors has made the achievements possible, according to WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib.

“It is very good news for Algeria and Argentina, but also for the two continents and globally also,” Chaib told VOA. “It means that malaria can be beaten. But the efforts should continue because we need also to enhance surveillance to be able to detect if any cases of malaria are still present in the country.”

WHO says the two countries eliminated malaria by employing a number of basic, well-proven measures, including insecticide-treated mosquito nets. It says both countries improved surveillance, which enabled them to rapidly identify and treat new cases of malaria. In addition, the two countries provided free diagnosis and treatment within their borders.

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World Health Organization reports Algeria is the second country in Africa to be recognized as malaria-free after Mauritius. Wikimedia Commons

In the case of Argentina, WHO says cross-border collaboration with its neighbor Bolivia was critical in combating the disease. It says both countries teamed up to spray more than 22,000 homes in border areas and to conduct widespread malaria testing.

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WHO says Algeria’s and Argentina’s unwavering commitment, perseverance and success in combating malaria should serve as a model for other countries.

Both Algeria and Argentina have succeeded in ridding themselves of the deadly malaria parasite without the benefit of a vaccine. Health officials are hopeful this task becomes easier with the recent rollout of the first promising malaria vaccine in Ghana and Malawi. (VOA)