Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Genetically Altered Mosquitoes To Combat Dengue

WASHINGTON, Feb 24 – Dengue fever is among the world’s most pressing public health issues, and causes severe flulike symptoms. There are 50 million to 100 million cases per year, and nearly 40 per cent of the global population is at risk.

Recently, University California Irvine (UCI) researchers and colleagues from Oxitec Ltd and the University of Oxford created a new breed of flightless females are expected to die quickly in the wild, curtailing the number of mosquitoes and reducing – or even eliminating – dengue transmission.

Males of the strain can fly but do not bite or convey disease, Qatar News Agency (QNA) reported citing the report.

Researcher Professor Anthony James of UCI said: “Current dengue control methods are not sufficiently effective, and new ones are urgently needed.”

“Controlling the mosquito that transmits this virus could significantly reduce human morbidity and mortality,” he said.

The dengue virus is spread by the bite of infected female mosquitoes and there is no vaccine or treatment.

He explained that when genetically altered male mosquitoes mate with wild females and pass on their genes, females of the next generation are unable to fly.

Scientists estimate that if released, the new breed could sustainably suppress the native mosquito population in six to nine months. The approach offers a safe, efficient alternative to harmful insecticides.

Study results appear in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences for the week of Feb 22.

The research is receiving funding support from the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health through the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative, which was launched to support breakthrough advances for health challenges in the developing world.

Using concepts developed by Oxitec’s Luke Alphey, the study’s senior author, researchers made a genetic alteration in the mosquitoes that disrupts wing muscle development in female offspring, rendering them incapable of flight. Males’ ability to fly is unaffected, and they show no ill effects from carrying the gene.

“The technology is completely species-specific, as the released males will mate only with females of the same species,” Alphey said. “It’s far more targeted and environmentally friendly than approaches dependent upon the use of chemical spray insecticides, which leave toxic residue.”

James and Alphey have pioneered the creation of genetically altered mosquitoes to limit transmission of vector-borne illnesses.

While their current work is focused on the dengue fever vector, they noted that this approach could be adapted to other mosquito species that spread such diseases as malaria and West Nile fever. – Bernama

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