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Mutant Mosquitoes May Mitigate Malaria

John on March 19, 2007 at 10:44 pm

From The Guardian:

Malaria kills more than 1 million people a year

90% of malaria deaths occur among young children in sub-Saharan Africa

Now there’s hope for future children:

Researchers led by Marcelo Jacobs-Lorena at the Malaria Research Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland created genetically modified mosquitoes by giving them a gene that made it impossible for them to pass on the plasmodium parasite that causes malaria. Around 1,200 GM mosquitoes were then released into a cage holding malaria-infected mice and the same number of wild mosquitoes.

Over time, the researchers found that the GM mosquitoes slowly became the majority, reaching 70% in nine generations. The scientists believe that even though malaria-resistance weakened the mosquitoes by making them immune to the parasite, they fared better in the long term than insects infected with it because they lived longer and laid more eggs.

No doubt this is going to be strongly opposed by the same people who strongly oppose genetically altered tomatoes and, not coincidentally, the use of DDT to combat malaria infected mosquitoes. Possibly in anticipation of this reaction, the project is on the slow track. Extremely slow in my opinion:

Trials in sub-Saharan Africa, where malaria claims the life of a child every 30 seconds, could be conducted within five years, but scientists will first have to prove as far as possible that the resistance genes will not trigger a more aggressive form of malaria, or spread to other insects.

Five years! I hate to go down this road, but I’m going to in this case. Let’s face it, if 10,000 American children died from mosquito carried malaria, we’d have wall-to-wall media coverage and the pressure to release the Franken-quitoes would be overwhelming. But 100 times that many people children in Africa die every year from this disease and we’re going to essentially yawn, scratch ourselves and take our time. That’s truly outrageous. This needs to be on the fast track as of yesterday.

The President — who could stand to be seen backing some promising science — needs to speak about this and promise whatever funds are necessary. I’m not saying skip the research, I’m saying with a billion dollars, we could do this in 5 months instead of 5 years.

Where is Bono when we need him?

Update: I knew this reminded me of something. Here’s the paranoiacs worst case scenario which is also the trailer for a pretty good movie from 1997.

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Category: Politics, Science & Tech |

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