Mosquito population made extinct with genetic tweak

Scientists said on Monday they had succeeded for the first time in wiping out an entire population of malaria-carrying mosquitoes in the lab using a gene editing tool to programme their extinction. So-called gene drive technology works by forcing evolution’s hand, ensuring that an engineered trait is passed down to a higher proportion of offspring — across many generations — than would have occurred naturally. In experiments with the species Anopheles gambiae , scientists at Imperial College London tweaked a gene known as doublesex so that more females in each generation could no longer bite or reproduce. After only eight generations, there were no females left and the population collapsed due to lack of offspring. “This breakthrough shows that gene drive can work, providing hope in the fight against a disease that has plagued mankind for centuries,” said lead author Andrea Crisanti, a professor in Imperial’s Department of Life Sciences. Malaria affected more than 200 million people worldwide in 2016 and killed nearly 4,50,000. It remains one of the most deadly of infectious diseases. Previous attempts by the same team and others to induce the genetically programmed extinction of mosquitoes in the laboratory ran into “resistance” in the form of mutations that fought back against the high-tech engineering.
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