Mosquitoes, Malaria, and Molecular Biology: How DNA can Help Kill a Disease

Happy second Saturday, everyone! It’s time for a science post. For today’s post, I visited the Science News website and browsed around for something interesting to talk about. There were a lot of options, but I settled on this one. All credit goes to the original authors.

I’m sure you’ve heard of malaria. It is commonly known to be rampant in third-world areas, particularly Africa. It’s caused by microorganisms of the genus Plasmodium, which have part of their life cycle in mosquitoes of the genus Anopheles. This makes it that much harder to eradicate, since any disease or parasite with what’s called an “animal vector” requires health workers to eliminate every animal that could carry the disease. Imagine trying to kill every one of the 30-40 malaria-transmitting Anopheles mosquito species in Africa, and you have some idea of why malaria is so hard to get rid of.

So essentially, to end the disease, end the mosquito. But how?

Using everyone’s favorite molecule, of course: DNA!

Scientists at Imperial College London have developed a “gene drive,” an engineered DNA molecule that disrupts genes’ activity by inserting itself into them, that is capable of sterilizing females of one Anopheles species. That could curb the reproduction of the mosquito, and thus the number of mosquitoes available to carry Plasmodium. 

 

 

Plasmodium, the malaria parasite. (Image from the CDC)

This is actually the second Anopheles gene drive to be developed by the same researchers. The other one (findings published 2015) aimed to prevent Anopheles from carrying Plasmodium. So far, both of them work, though neither has yet been released into the wild Anopheles population. But both have potential to help stop malaria.

There you have it: another manifestation of the current genetics revolution. (I must admit I am partial to blogging about said revolution, being a major DNA geek.) What do you think of these gene drives that might help eliminate malaria? Do you like DNA as much as I do? Share in the comments! Also, if you’d like to learn more about today’s topic, be sure to check out the links in the post!

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