SCIENTISTS at Oxford University have found a way to use a mosquito’s own DNA to fight the deadly human diseases they carry including malaria.
Researchers in the university’s Zoology department have found they can take advantage of “selfish” genetic elements in the insect’s DNA which are more likely to be passed on to offspring despite being potentially harmful to the carrier.
These genes, called homing endonuclease genes (HEGs), can be manipulated to actually control mosquito populations.
Scientist Mike Bonsall, of the Zoology department, said: “Crucially, HEGs can be used to recognise and disrupt a bit of DNA that really matters — that is important for an individual mosquito to survive from egg to adult.
“HEGs occur naturally in some simple organisms, such as single-celled fungi, and have been artificially inserted into the genomes of other organisms, notably the mosquito species, Anopheles gambiae, that is the main vector of human malaria.”
He said the genes can be used either to suppress mosquito populations or to change their ability to carry a disease like malaria.
Researchers say that this new approach could be an important weapon against diseases like malaria, which is responsible for up to 1.6 million deaths a year.