The AP reports:
"Researchers have developed a malaria-resistant mosquito, a step that might one day help block the spread of an illness that has claimed millions of lives around the world."
Malaria is a scourge that kills nearly 3 million people worldwide every year, the vast majority of them in Africa and overwhelmingly children. My wife got the falciparum strain while we were in Namibia and it nearly killed her.
A team of researchers lead by Assistant Professor Jason Rasgon at Johns Hopkins University's Malaria Research Institute hopes to develop a transgenic mosquito that will resist malaria infection, would be less likely to transmit disease and more likely to out compete those that are carriers.
"Working with the mouse form of malaria - not the human type - Rasgon's team was able to genetically engineer mosquitoes that were resistant to malaria.
Malaria infection does exact a toll on mosquitoes and in laboratory work they found that the resistant insects were able to out compete nonresistant mosquitoes.
Starting with the same number of resistant and nonresistant mosquitoes, they found that after nine generations the resistant type made up 70 percent of the population - raising the possibility of replacing regular mosquitoes with resistant ones that don't spread disease.
However, Rasgon stressed that in the lab work the insects were infected with a higher amount of the parasite than occurs in nature, and a larger proportion of the mosquitoes were infected.
"This was proof of principle," Rasgon said in a telephone interview. "The next step would be to work in a system more epidemiologically relevant" but still in the lab.
"We're not anywhere near a field release," he said. Now they need to turn their attention to working with human malaria and trying to engineer a mosquito resistant to that."
There may yet be unanticipated consequences of releasing a transgenic mosquito into the environment, as is often the case with aggressive, invasive species, but this would appear to be a situation where the benefits for human health should far outweigh the risk of intentionally introducing a super mosquito.