Published: Sun, June 02, 2019
Health Care | By Cedric Leonard

GM fungus causes ‘crash’ in mosquito populations, study suggests

GM fungus causes ‘crash’ in mosquito populations, study suggests

Researchers have used a fake village in Burkina Faso to test a genetically-modified fungus which kills malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

The results of the study showed that approximately "75% of wild insecticide-resistant mosquitoes released into the environment became infected with the transgenic fungus, causing population collapse within 45 days".

It is hoped the mutated fungus could help to prevent the deaths of about 400,000 people a year.

Scientists in Burkina Faso in west Africa applied the fungus to a sheet, which was hung up in a mocked-up village. "Additionally, the fungus does nothing at all to bees and other beneficial species", St. Leger said after the earlier study. "They're very malleable, you can genetically engineer them very easily", Prof Raymond St Leger, from the University of Maryland, told BBC News.

They took a naturally occurring fungus, Metarhizium pingshaense, and combined it with the DNA of a venomous Australian Blue Mountains funnel-web spider. According to lab tests, fewer fungal spores were required for the genetically modified fungus to quickly eliminate mosquitoes. The next step was to test the fungus in as close to real-world conditions as possible.

The researchers mixed the fungal spored with sesame oil and wiped these on to black cotton sheets. There, they divided adult mosquitoes into three groups of 1,500 each, two males to each female.

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The results, published in the journal Science, showed numbers soared when the insects were left alone. After this introduction, only 13 mosquitoes survived after a period of 45 days.

'No transgenic malaria control has come this far down the road toward actual field testing, ' Brian Lovett, from the University of Maryland, said. Lovett added that the technology is not aiming to drive the extinction of mosquitoes: "What we're aiming to do is break malaria transmission in an area".

A previous study conducted on the Metarhizium fungus in Tanzania in 2005 found it did kill mosquitoes but did it so slowly the mosquito was able to transmit malaria.

Africa still remains an area where the disease is devastating.

As Professor Michael Bonsall, a University of Oxford scientist who was not involved with the study, commented: "Proportionate bio-safety regulations are needed to ensure that the viability of this and other approaches for vector [mosquito] control using genetic methods are not lost through overly zealous restrictions".

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