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Fungus Made to Kill Mosquitos

Researchers have genetically modified a fungus to kill mosquitos that can spread malaria, NPR reports.

A US- and Burkina Faso-based team of researchers engineered a strain of the fungus Metarhizium pingshaense to express a spider-derived toxin under the control of a hemolymph-specific promoter, as they describe in a paper in this week's Science. This way, M. pingshaense — strains of which infect mosquitos — expresses this toxin when it are surrounded by blood.

The researchers tested this setup in a semi-field trial in Burkina Faso, where malaria is endemic. They reported in their paper that this led to increased M. pingshaense lethality and lower numbers of insecticide-resistant Anopheles coluzzii mosquitos.

"In West Africa and mostly in Burkina Faso we have a lot of insecticide resistance problems. The conventional tool, the bed nets, that we have now … it looks like they have really reached their fundamental protective limit," author Diabate Abdoulaye from the Institut de Recherche en Science de la Santé in Burkina Faso tells the Guardian.

Critics, though, are concerned about untended consequences of using a genetically modified organism, worrying that it could affect other organisms and disrupt the ecosystem, and whether it is safe for people in the area.