Genetically modified fungus to fight malaria
Malaria is a life-threatening disease spread by the female Anopheles mosquito.
Photo: Shutterstock

14.06.2019

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A fungus genetically engineered to produce spider toxin can crush populations of malaria-spreading mosquitoes, according to a study hailed as a breakthrough by international scientists battling to combat the disease.

An international team of scientists have reported to have genetically modified a fungus so that it can kill mosquitoes as part of a new drive to fight malaria. The trial in Burkina Faso – which was conducted in a sealed model village – killed more than 99 per cent of 1,500 mosquitoes within 45 days and is being hailed as a “big step” forward by the study's authors, who come from the University of Maryland (UMD) in the USA and the West African nation’s Research Institute of Health Sciences (IRSS).

Malaria is a life-threatening disease spread by the female Anopheles mosquito. In 2017, there were an estimated 219 million cases world-wide, claiming 435,000 lives, according to the World Health Organization. The vast majority of cases are in Africa.

Brian Lovett, of the University of Maryland’s entomology department and lead author of the paper published in the journal Science, said the study had “broken through a barrier”.

Researchers took a strain of the fungus Metarhizium pingshaense, which infects mosquitoes in the wild, and genetically modified it to produce a toxin found in the venom of the Australian Blue Mountains funnel-web spider.

The GM fungus kills mosquitos more rapidly than they can breed

Laboratory trials showed the genetically modified fungus killed mosquitoes more rapidly than they could breed, according to the study.

The insecticide was then unleashed in a purpose-built 6,550-square-foot ‘village’ in Burkina Faso, containing huts, plants, and breeding pools, and covered in netting to stop the insects escaping.

“You can think of the fungus as a hypodermic needle we use to deliver a potent insect-specific toxin into the mosquito,” said Raymond St.

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