Scientists have hit upon a novel way to block the transmission of malaria parasites to humans — re-engineering Anopheles mosquito’s immune system.
“The immune system of the Anopheles mosquito is capable of killing a large proportion but not all of the disease-causing parasites that are ingested when the mosquito feeds on an infected human,” study co-author George Dimopoulos said.
“We’ve genetically engineered this immune system to create mosquitoes that are better at blocking the transmission of the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum,” said Dimopoulos, associate professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.
Worldwide, malaria afflicts over 225 million people and kills approximately 800,000, many of whom are children living in Africa, the journal Public Library of Science Pathogens reports.
Dimopoulos and his team genetically engineered Anopheles mosquitoes to produce higher than normal levels of an immune system protein Rel2 when they feed on blood, according to a Johns Hopkins statement.
Rel2 acts against the malaria parasite in the mosquito by launching an immune attack involving a variety of anti-parasitic molecules.
Through this approach, instead of introducing a new gene into the mosquito DNA, the researchers used one of the insect’s own genes to strengthen its parasite-fighting capabilities.
“Malaria is one of world’s most serious public health problems. We’ve taken a giant step towards the development of new mosquito strains that could be released to limit malaria transmission, but further studies are needed to render this approach safe and fail-proof,” Dimopoulos said.