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August 9, 2011

Spermless Mosquitoes???

HEALTH - According to a team of British scientists releasing genetically modified, spermless male mosquitoes into the wild could help to prevent malaria transmission and reduce the chances of large outbreaks of the killer disease.

Researchers from Imperial College London have sterilized male mosquitoes by genetically modifying them to neutralize a gene required for sperm production.

Their study determined 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 say it might be possible to control the size of the malaria-carrying mosquito population by introducing a genetic change that makes males more sterile. Over time female mosquitoes would then unknowingly mate with the modified males and produce less offspring.

Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease that kills nearly 800,000 people every year. Its threat is greatest in Africa, where one child dies of malaria every 45 seconds.

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

Genetically controlling the population is one possibility.

For these currently theoretical control ideas to work in practice, scientists first have to establish whether the insects would continue to mate as normal, unaware that they've lost the ability to reproduce.

After mating for the first and only time in her life, the female mosquito then eats a meal of blood, and lays a batch of eggs. This pattern is the same regardless of whether the eggs are properly fertilised.

In theory another route would be to genetically modify female mosquitoes so they produce less eggs.

However this idea may only have a small impact on mosquito populations. What is really needed is a way to kill large numbers of mosquitoes, but without harming insects like bees which are needed for pollination.

Giant blue electric bug zappers?

ie. California's fruit industry uses large commercial bug zappers. They emit an ultraviolet light which attracts insects and then zaps them with electricity.

However the problem is that bug zappers don't attract female mosquitoes (the only mosquitoes which bite). Thus they're useless for stopping mosquitoes and malaria.

What might work however is a blood-like substance laced with a toxin which female mosquitoes would find attractive, try to injest and then die from the toxin. Essentially it would be like rat poison and be left out to attract and kill female mosquitoes.

Scientists would need to determine what combination of iron, water and other elements mixed together best attract mosquitoes, determine what dosage of the toxin best kills mosquitoes and then test it on a larger scale.

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