GM fungus 'kills 99% of malaria mosquitoes'

Researchers create fake village filled with genetically-modified fungus to fight malaria

Back row (from left to right): Etienne Bilgo, Oliver Zida, Bema Ouattara; Middle row: Boureima Saré, Judicael Zida, Brian Lovett, Moussa Ouattara, MichaÏlou Sanfo and Bamory Ouattara; Front row: Yaya Ouattara and Jacques Gnambani.

Scientists have genetically engineered a spider fungus that develops a venom that kills mosquitos that bite humans.

ITIJ commends the diligent work of the teams at University of Maryland and IRSS research institute in Burkina Faso.

Knowing that malaria kills more than 400,000 people a year and that Africa is one of the continents worst affected by this awful disease, trials of the fungus were carried out in a simulated village in Burkina Faso, one that replicated the normal conditions that mosquitoes would thrive in, complete with plants, huts and water and food sources for the mosquitoes.

There were 219 million malaria cases worldwide in 2017, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and they caused 435,000 deaths, mainly of children under five. The next step was to test the fungus in as close to real-world conditions as possible.

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Researchers from the University of Maryland in the U.S. engineered the fungus to deliver a toxin to mosquitoes. It was complete with plants, huts, water sources and food for the mosquitoes while special nets were used to prevent the insects from escaping. In order to be exposed to the deadly fungus, the mosquitoes had to land on the sheets. By the end of the 45-day trial, the spider toxin fungus wiped out 99 percent of the mosquito population.

Inside the sphere was a fungus known as Metarhizium pingshaense which had been genetically modified so it produces venom originally from a spider. They published their results Friday in the journal Science.

Researchers tested the fungus in a fake village called the MosquitoSphere.

New tools are needed to tackle malaria as mosquitoes are becoming resistant to insecticides.

Gene drives have also been proposed as a way of controlling mosquitoes, specifically the Anopheles species that mostly transmit malaria.

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