Jul 24, 2023
Researchers think they’ve found a new way to fight malaria. Malaria is a disease. It's caused by a parasite. It's carried and spread to humans by mosquitoes. But scientists at the University of California-Irvine think they can use mosquitoes to fight malaria.
Malaria kills hundreds of thousands of people a year. This mainly happens in South America, Africa, and Asia. A few people got sick in Texas and Florida this year too. Fighting malaria has long been one of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) top goals.
Dr. Matshidiso Moeti is the WHO Regional Director for Africa. In a 2022 news release, she wrote that new tools and money are needed to fight malaria.
Enter CRISPR. It is a tool that can edit genes. Anthony James is a professor of molecular biology at Cal-Irvine. He's been using CRISPR to alter the DNA of mosquitoes that carry malaria. Since the malaria parasite doesn’t attack mosquitoes’ bodies, their immune system ignores it. By altering the bug’s DNA, James hopes to change that.
"If we can make the mosquitoes (a bad place for) the pathogens, you know, we can eliminate the threat of getting the disease," he told NPR.
James used CRISPR to add mouse DNA to a batch of mosquitoes. Mice’s immune systems fight malaria. So, the genetically altered mosquitoes’ bodies did, too. It “worked very well,” James said.
James next hopes to release the CRISPR’ed mosquitoes outside. This would allow their DNA to spread. But some environmentalists are not sure about the plan.
Dana Perls is the senior program manager at nonprofit Friends of the Earth. She told NPR that she doesn't believe the risk is worth it.
Reflect: Do you think scientists should be able to alter or change the DNA of animals? Why or why not?