Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Scientists work on mosquito breeding to control malaria

Scientists have just concluded a study that tries to change breeding habits of mosquitoes that carry the malaria virus. Scientists had female mosquitoes breed with sperm-less male mosquitoes to see if it would eventually thin out the number of females that carry the disease.

From Reuters Alert Net, writer Kate Kelland explains the study that was conducted at Imperial College London.

In a study to see how these mosquitoes would fare when trying to get a mate, they found that female mosquitoes cannot tell if the males they mate with are fertile, or spermless and therefore unable to fertilise the females' eggs.

The researchers said findings suggest that in future it might be possible to control the size of the malaria-carrying mosquito population by introducing a genetic change that makes males sterile. Female mosquitoes would then unknowingly mate with the modified males and fail to produce any offspring.

Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease that affects up to 300 million people and kills nearly 800,000 every year. Its threat is greatest in Africa, where the World Health Organisation says a child dies of malaria about every 45 seconds.

Public health experts are working towards the eventual global eradication of malaria, but progress is slow and there is a constant need for better and cheaper ways to get there.

"In the fight against malaria, many hope that the ability to genetically control the mosquito vector will one day be a key part of our armoury," said Flaminia Catteruccia from Imperial's life sciences department, who led the study.

But she added that for these currently theoretical control ideas to work in practice, scientists have to establish whether the insects would continue to mate as normal, unaware that their sexual mechanisms had been tampered with.

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