By modifying sperm to produce only male offspring, researchers have caused the numbers of malaria-carrying mosquitoes to crash.
The new research caused Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes to produce sperm that would only create males, offering new hope for eradicating malaria.
The malaria parasite is passed to humans through the bite of female mosquitoes, so reducing their numbers could rapidly stop the spread of the disease, the study suggests.
The results are published in Nature Communications, and showed that, in the lab, the method was able to create a fully fertile mosquito strain that produced 95% male offspring.
These genetically modified mosquitoes were introduced to five separate cages filled with regular mosquito populations, and in four out of five of these cages the entire population was eliminated due to a lack of females.
If these results are replicable in the wild, it would lead to the each of the malaria-carrying mosquito population, and help control the disease, which kills an estimated 627,000 people each year.
Dr Nikolai Windbichler, a lead researcher at Imperial College London who worked on the project,said in a press release: “What is most promising about our results is that they are self-sustaining. Once modified mosquitoes are introduced, males will start to produce mainly sons, and their sons will do the same, so essentially the mosquitoes carry out the work for us.”
Even better, the technique would be cheap and wouldn’t involve any human medication.
The method involves scientists inserting a DNA cutting enzyme into male Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes. Usually, half the sperm contains an X and Y chromosome, which will produce female offspring. But the enzyme cuts the X chromosome during sperm production, so that the majority of sperm will produce males.