Malaria-Proof Mosquito Celebrated by Scientists, Journalists

A big step with some important caveats

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Step by step, minor scientific advances are beginning to curb the often-devastating effects of malaria. Researchers are now meddling with the sex-lives of mosquitos, using "genomic warfare" to counter resistance to the malaria drug, and boosting the insect's immunity. But a team led by Michael Riehle at the University of Arizona may have been able unlock the most coveted breakthrough: a completely "malaria-proof" mosquito. Their findings, originally published in the journal PLoS Pathogens, have been subject to mostly jubilant opinions from journalists:

  • Major Obstacles Still Remain before the strain can be released from the lab, soberly notes Art Chimes at Voice of America. "Creating a genetically-modified mosquito to prevent malaria transmission is one thing; modifying it to drive the existing mosquitos to extinction may be another. And University of Arizona scientist Michael Riehle admits there are, as he put it, 'a number of hurdles' to overcome. In any event, he says it will be at least 10 years before the genetically modified mosquitos might be ready to leave the lab."

  • One Small, Important Step writes Daniel Stolte (via University of Arizona release and Science Daily). "At this point, the modified mosquitos exist in a highly secured lab environment with no chance of escape. Once researchers find a way to replace wild mosquito populations with lab-bred ones, breakthroughs like the one achieved by Riehle's group could pave the way toward a world in which malaria is all but history."

  • Far From Ready for field use, observes Rachel Bernstein at The Los Angeles Times. Ironically, even after successfully modifying the mosquito, researchers "don't yet understand how the genetic change makes the mosquitos malaria-proof."

  • A Big Step Vs. Malaria declares Tom Beal at the Arizona Daily Star. The writer quoted Michael Riehle, the studies author, as saying, "the world's governments will have to decide whether the unknown risks of replacing mosquito populations with transgenic mosquitos are outweighed by the opportunity to eradicate a disease that kills more than 1 million people annually."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.