Thursday, 18 July, 2019

GMO Fungus Mass Kills Malaria Mosquitoes

Researchers create fake village filled with genetically-modified fungus to fight malaria ‘A big step forward’: fungus enhanced with spider toxin proves deadly for mosquitoes
Anna Jefferson | 02 June, 2019, 02:01

Conducting the study, researchers at the University of Maryland in the U.S. - and the IRSS research institute in Burkina Faso - first identified a fungus called Metarhizium pingshaense, which naturally infects the Anopheles mosquitoes that spread malaria.

Within 45 days, trials conducted in Burkina Faso, showed that mosquito populations collapsed by 99% due to the fungus.

Researchers from the University of Maryland in the United States engineered the fungus to deliver a toxin to mosquitoes.

'No transgenic malaria control has come this far down the road toward actual field testing, ' Brian Lovett, from the University of Maryland, said.

But concerns have been raised that meddling with the genetic code of fungi - and adding genes to make poisons that do not occur in nature - could backfire. Malaria is usually caused by parasites transmitted by the female, according to the World Health Organization.

"A spider uses its fangs to pierce the skin of insects and inject toxins, we replaced the fangs of spider with Metarhizium", Professor Raymond St Leger of the University of Maryland explained. The toxin, an insecticide called Hybrid, comes from the venom of the Australian Blue Mountains funnel-web spider.

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An worldwide group of scientists from the United States and Burkina Faso "improved" the fungus by using the gene of the Hybrid neurotoxin and tested in conditions as close to real.

In a previous study the researchers tested the fungus on bees to check if its effects would be limited to malarial mosquitoes and not affect other insects.

The scientists built the 6,550-square-foot space called "MosquitoSphere" with areas containing experimental huts, plants, small mosquito-breeding pools and their food source. The mosquitoes had to land on the sheets to be exposed to the deadly fungus.

Also global efforts to fight the disease have faltered in recent years, due to lack of funding and the growing problem of insecticide resistance.

The spider venom toxin has additionally already been approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency for outdoor use as a biopesticide to control lepidopteran (moths and butterflies) pests.

Commenting on the findings, Prof Michael Bonsall, from the University of Oxford, said: "Neat - this is a super-exciting study".

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