Friday, July 4, 2014

Take a Bite out of Malaria

A synthetic sex ratio distortion system for the control of the human malaria mosquito

Behind that pompous sounding title is a pretty clever idea: Use genetic modification to cause the endonuclease I-PpoI to carve up the X chromsome in the male Anopheles mosquito the female of which is the vector for malaria.

Because just indiscriminatly tearing up the X chromosome would kill the mosquito, the researchers genetically modified the enzyme so it is only expressed during spermatogenesis and has a short half-life. Mow a male with the allele would be otherwise healthy but produce little to no viable X-bearing sperm. The goal is not to kill the mosquito but to cause the males to father fewer female offspring. The implications for the anopheles population are obvious.

A precursor to this is the "sterile insect technique" used since since the sixties to eradicate screwfly populations. Large numbers of male screwflies were artificially sterilized and released. The females they mated with produced sterile eggs. The advantage of genetic modification is that it is self perpetuating. Successive generations would carry the modified allele and some males in every generation would produce (mostly) only male offspring.

It may be true that "nature will find a way" and, if attempted, this GMO approach might fail. That doesn't stop it from being a clever idea.

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