According to the WHO’s 2012 statistics, approximately 627,000 people died from malaria out of 270 million reported cases worldwide. The global mortality rates for this disease, however, have dropped by 42% since 2000. Now, researchers from the Imperial College London are developing a technique that may eliminate malaria among certain mosquito populations.
Malaria-causing Plasmodium parasites infect Anopheles mosquitoes, which then transmit the disease to humans when bitten by female Anopheles. The disease, if not treated within 24 hours of symptoms, may lead to fever, chills, vomiting, severe illness, and death. Though malaria is found in different regions of the world, 90% of malaria deaths are in found Africa.
Scientists in the UK have been creating a version of an enzyme known as I-Ppol that cuts the DNA of the X-chromosome in mosquito sperm during reproduction. This then results in all male offspring and reduces the growth of infected females.
As these male offspring reproduce the next generation, the enzyme continues to cut out the X-Chromosome in the sperm. Since females aren’t reproduced in the next generation, there eventually are no more females left to continue the mosquito population.
This “self-sustaining” solution will hopefully be applied to wild mosquitoes to drastically reduce the transmission of mosquito-borne malaria. Fifty-two countries have begun reducing their malaria incidence rates while 4 countries have already been WHO-certified as having eliminated malaria within the past 10 years (i.e., United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Turkmenistan, and Armenia).
This sex modification technique holds a promising future for eliminating malaria especially when one considers the amount of cases where the disease has adapted to resist treatment. Millions of dollars are spent creating new drugs to stay one step ahead of the resistance. By targeting malaria-carrying mosquito populations, it’ll cut the rate of infection in humans and give organizations a chance to keep up with current cases.