Coming Soon: Genetically Modified, Malaria-Fighting Mosquitoes

In perhaps the weirdest malaria-related development yet, scientists announced this week that they’re close to being able to produce genetically modified, malaria-fighting mosquitoes.

old ad for malaria remedy

Malaria kills one million people a year in the developing world. This is incredibly frustrating, because we can cure malaria. Everyone who dies from it dies simply because we can’t get them the proper vaccines or drugs. Some pretty important people (like Bill Gates) have taken up the fight against the disease, which is why we’ve seen increasingly creative malaria-fighting ideas pop up in recent years. In perhaps the weirdest development yet, scientists announced this week that they’re close to being able to produce genetically modified, malaria-fighting mosquitoes.


Researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Washington have discovered that they can disrupt the malaria parasite’s development by inserting a special gene into mosquitoes, which pass the malaria-fighting capability onto their offspring. This is just the beginning–in the future, scientists could splice in genes that allow mosquitoes to target
animals instead of humans or even produce all-male offspring (only females spread malaria), according to the BBC.

There are some serious implications to this kind of research: We have no idea what happens when you start messing with mosquito genes. What happens to the ecosystems they live in? What happens to the mutated mosquitoes? We’ve seen Jurassic Park enough times to know that nature finds a way–especially the bad parts of nature. But believe it or not, the latest mosquito research is far from the only wacky malaria-fighting scheme to cross our inbox.

In 2009, former Microsoft exec Nathan Myhrvold developed the Weapon of Mosquito Destruction (WMD), a hand-held laser that locates and kills individual mosquitoes by detecting the audio frequency of their beating wings. It’s not exactly the most practical option for resource-strapped communities. A less dramatic solution comes from Weill Cornell Medical College, which wants to give malaria-prone children chocolate as medicine to fight the disease, the theory being that chocolate kills some of the parasites but leaves enough in the blood to guarantee lifetime immunity.

But in addition to getting all mad-scientist on mosquitoes, shooting them down with laser guns and force-feeding chocolate to children (ok, that one doesn’t sound so bad), there’s also the tried-and-true solution: mosquito nets. They work, they’re cheap, and they don’t require tons of cash for research. Let’s just hope these genetically modified mosquitoes don’t accidentally spawn some other nightmarish disease.

[Photo Credit: Wikipedia]

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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more