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Driving Malaria-Carrying Mosquitoes Down

Researchers have developed a gene drive for mosquitoes to limit the spread of malaria, according to NPR.

Researchers from the UK and Italy developed CRISPR-based gene drives targeting the doublesex gene in Anopheles gambiae, which female mosquitoes need to develop properly, NPR adds. Without it, female mosquitoes cannot bite — and thus cannot spread the malaria-causing parasite — and cannot lay eggs, affecting population growth.

As they report in the journal Nature Communications, the researchers have tested the drive in indoor lab conditions that partially mimic that of the natural environment. The researchers conducted four large-caged release experiments that indicated that mosquitoes with the gene drive first increased in frequency among the wild-type mosquito populations, followed by suppression of the Ae. gambiae population within about a year.

"Our study is the first [that] could show that gene-drive technology works under ecologically challenging conditions," co-senior author Ruth Müller from PoloGGB in Italy tells NPR. "This is the big breakthrough that we made with our study."

NPR notes, though, that some critics find the technology to be too risky for delicate ecosystems.