European scientists have created the world's first genetically-modified mosquito, in what they believe may be a step towards eliminating malaria by introducing malaria-free versions of the insect into the wild.
The team introduced a piece of foreign DNA into mosquito eggs, which then "jumped" into the chromosomes of the larva, according to their research, published in Thursday's issue of the British scientific journal Nature.
The DNA comprises small circular mobile molecules called plasmids.
In this case, the plasmids controlled a fluorescent protein, which makes the mosquito glow an eerie green when it is exposed to ultraviolet light.
The glow has a laboratory use -- to show researchers at a glance whether the modified gene has been conferred to subsequent generations of the insect.
But, the scientists write, other genes could also be inserted, with a potential boon for humanity.
A strain of mosquitoes could be bred that no longer harbors or transmits the malaria parasite, which is passed on to humans when the insect drinks their blood.
Work could draw on a wealth of experience in figuring out the genetic makeup of a cousin species, the fruitfly Drosophila.
"The successful transformation of a mosquito vector of human malaria is a notable advance in our ability to combat this devastating disease," adds Craig Coates, of Texas A and M University, in an adjoining commentary in Nature.
He cautions, however, that the environmental impact of releasing the modified flies would have to carefully assessed.
The research was conducted by scientists from London's Imperial College; the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany; and the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology in Crete, Greece.
Hundreds of millions of people living in tropical and sub-tropical climates are affected by malaria-carrying mosquitoes.
Ninety percent of cases, accounting for an estimated one million deaths a year, are in sub-Saharan Africa, where the main culprit is a strain of mosquito called Anopheles gambiae.
There is no viable vaccine against the malaria parasite, which is also becoming resistant to the most commonly used drugs - PARIS (AFP)
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