Researchers at the University of Maryland collaborated with the IRSS research institute in Burkina Faso to develop a genetically-modified fungus that produces a toxin to kill off populations of malaria-carrying mosquitoes, reported the BBC.
Trials of the new fungus have already been carried out in Burkina Faso and have found that the genetically-enhanced spider toxin produced by the fungi have wiped out 99 percent of mosquito populations in just 45 days.
The fungus, which naturally invades mosquitoes, was joined with the venom of a species of Australian funnel-web spider. The genetic instructions for the production of the venom in the spider were added to the fungi’s own DNA to prompt the production of the toxin by the fungi itself once a spore encountered a mosquito.
Testing showed that the fungus modified with the spider venom could kill more efficiently and without needing to emit as many spores.
Once laboratory tests were found to be successful, researchers took the fungal spores out into the real world to test conditions closer to those of the natural environment. The tests took place in a 6,500-square-foot fake village set up with food for mosquitoes and surrounded by mosquito netting to prevent their escape.
Have you ever slept under a mosquito net? Then you know what an important role they play in keeping pesky mosquitos at bay. Health volunteer, Ndoum inspects nets around the neighborhood in an effort to keep this community in Cameroon #malaria free! pic.twitter.com/e60vtKOdde— Jhpiego (@Jhpiego) May 30, 2019
Before releasing 1,500 mosquitoes into the fake village, researchers laid out black cotton sheets of fungal spores mixed with sesame oil to encourage mosquitoes to land and properly be exposed to the fungus.
In addition to the trial with the fungal spores, scientists carried out a control trial in which mosquitoes were left alone and not exposed to the fungus.
The shocking results showed that without the presence of the fungi, mosquito populations increased exponentially. However, with the presence of the deadly spores, just 13 mosquitoes were left in the village after the 45-day trial ended.
Dr. Brain Lovett, from the University of Maryland, commented on the results of the study.
“The transgenic fungus quickly collapsed the mosquito population in just two generations.”
The researcher made sure to add, “Our technology is not aiming to drive the extinction of mosquitoes, what we’re aiming to do is break malaria transmission in an area.”
Malaria, spread through female mosquitoes when they drink a person’s blood, takes more than 400,000 lives per year. Around the world, there are around 219 million reported cases of malaria each year.
The World Health Organization warned that as mosquitoes are becoming more resistant to insecticides, malaria cases are increasing in the 10 worst-affected countries in Africa.