A sperm less mosquito has been created by scientists in the latest effort to control the spread of malaria. This mosquito should be able to reduce populations in the wild, and is the second recent attempt to modify the mosquito to prevent the spread of malaria.
In April scientists announced that they had modified a mosquito so that it can kill the malaria parasite. The research was announced in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Reports on the research have said, “This is not a new idea, scientists have previously rendered creatures sterile in order to stop the spread of disease. Before however this was always done using radiation. The problem with this was that once irradiated the male mosquitos were too weak to mate with the females.”
Scientist Flamina Catteruccia has taken a different approach and has developed a way to disable the gene that allows for male mosquitoes to produce fertile sperm. She has done this by injecting RNA into the mosquitoes designed to alter the reproductive genes.
The resulting sperm less males were then allowed to breed with the females and had no problem doing this, unlike the radiated mosquitoes. This method is particularly effective as the female mosquito only ever mates once, if she does this with an infertile male, she will lay infertile eggs for the rest of her life.
Some people have raised concerns over the elimination of mosquitoes as they are an important food source to other animals and this may have a negative effect on an ecosystem. Catteruccia has said this is not currently a concern as the methods for producing the sperm less mosquitoes are far too inefficient; it took her team months to create only a hundred sperm less males.
She said, “Releasing these mosquitoes into the wild would do very little, they could easily be squashed, eaten or just die before they had a chance to mate. Right now it is far too expensive to create an amount of mosquitoes that would have any significant effect on the environment.”
Current methods of controlling mosquitoes, such as insecticides can also harm other species in the environment, including humans. Also, as time goes by, more mosquitoes are becoming resistant to the types of insecticides being used. Developing potential ways to keep mosquitoes under control in the future is important to develop now as there may come a time when chemical control won’t work.
In the present however, it is important that the battle against malarial is continued. Mosquitoes can be prevented by clearing away standing water – where they breed. People in malarial areas must use mosquito nets at night to prevent bites. Finally, good health care in regions of malarial outbreaks is essential.