Maladjusted

Modifying mosquitoes to fight malaria proves unsuccessful

 
Published: Monday 31 March 2003

mosquitoes genetically modified to combat malaria have failed to compete with their wild cousins. Scientists last fall had completed the genome sequencing of the malaria parasite and vector. Following this, researchers from the Imperial College of London, the uk, had inserted easily traceable artificial genes into the anopheles mosquitoes -- the malaria vector. The genes rendered the insects incapable of transmitting the malaria parasite.

The researchers hoped that the mosquitoes would pass on the modified genes to their wild counterparts. But when they mated with the wild mosquitoes, their population declined considerably within 16 generations. This indicated that the wild mosquitoes were genetically stronger.

According to Andrea Crisanti, the lead researcher, one of the major problems is that all the modified mosquitoes are descendants of a single organism. "This makes their genetic pool weak," she says. Frank H Collins, a mosquito expert at us-based Notre Dame University was not surprised by the finding. "Such disadvantages are already well known," he says.

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