With 600,000 people dying of malaria worldwide every year, scientists have potentially found a way to push the mosquitoes into extinction with the modification of their chromosomes, according to the BBC.
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According to Imperial College London researchers, they have created mosquitoes that “shred” X chromosomes during sperm production, causing a dramatic drop in the production of female embryos. Female mosquitoes are the ones that bite humans and transmit malaria.
And while scientists say that this “artificial strain” was erroneously created in order to control the mosquito population, trial testing has already revealed that mosquitoes could be wiped out with these modified insects not too far in to the future.
“Indeed, in five test cages that started with 50 males and 50 females, when the team introduced 150 of their new sex-distorter males, the number of females plummeted within four generations. After another couple of generations, in four out of five cages, the population died out entirely.”
This “dying out” occurs because 95 percent of the scientist’s mosquito population only produces males.
“Importantly this change is heritable, so that male mosquitoes pass it on to about half their male progeny. This means if the artificial strain is released in to a population – in the lab or in the wild – the trait can spread until most males are only producing male offspring, perhaps eradicating the population altogether.
“‘It can be a self-sustaining effect,'” said Dr. Nikolai Windbichler.
The fact these types of mosquitoes could eventually be no more doesn’t strike researchers as a real issue since the chromosome effect only targets that particular species of mosquito. Scientists also can’t identify any real side effects to other species or the ecosystem caused by their extinction.
Interestingly enough, this “sex-distorting defect” was actually proposed by another scientist more than 60 years ago. Still, don’t expect mosquitoes to be knocked off any time soon. According to researchers, ongoing trials would need to be conducted for the next few years before it is ready to be tried out in the wild.
In addition, getting the shredder to work from the Y-chromosome would be an even better improvement that would make mosquitoes a relic of the past, “The new study’s authors agree this would be much more powerful. “You’d need to release fewer individuals, because all males will inherit the gene from their fathers and pass it on to all their sons – so the effect would not be diluted,” said Dr. Windbichler.
“Theoretically, if you have it on the Y,” Prof. Andrea Crisanti added, “one single individual could knock out an entire population.”
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