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Scientists Create New Mosquito that Could Eradicate Malaria

Update Date: Nov 24, 2015 10:46 AM EST

Scientists have discovered a new way of fighting malaria, a disease that continues to kill half a million people every year despite so many prevention tactics.

The research team at the University of California's Irvine and San Diego campuses reported that they have developed a new type of mosquito that could help end malaria. The team used a technique known as CRISPR-Cas9. This gene-editing technique allows scientists to selectively remove certain parts of an animal's DNA and replace them with new ones.

For this research, the team bred mosquitos with a new set of genes that made them resistant to malaria. The researchers also incorporated something called a "gene drive" that will ensure that the majority of the descendants of these mosquitos - at 99.5 percent - will carry the resistance as well.

"This is a significant first step," researcher Anthony James said in a University of California press release. "We know the gene works. The mosquitoes we created are not the final brand, but we know this technology allows us to efficiently create large populations."

"It can spread through a population with great efficiency, increasing from 1 percent to more than 99 percent in 10 generations, or about one season for mosquitoes," biologist Valentino Gantz, from the University of California-San Diego, said.

Despite the possibility of being able to eradicate malaria, the mutant mosquitos are being kept in a secured lab. Scientists and the society are currently divided over how genetically-modified animals or insects should be dealt with.

"[Gene editing] is a little bit like geoengineering," MIT researcher Feng Zhang previously said to the New Yorker. "Once you go down that path, it may not be so reversible."

Zhang was the lead investigator in the first study that used CRISPR-Cas9 editing on human cells.

The United Nations' health agency, the World Health Organization (WHO), estimated that in 2015, there will be 214 million malaria cases throughout the world with about 438,000 deaths.

The study's findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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