Image courtesy of Gabor Bibor on www.freeimages.com

The fight against malaria took an interesting turn recently with an article in the journal Science explaining that a way has been found to kill mosquitos without the use of chemicals.

Although deaths from malaria have declined globally in the last decade, it still kills more than 400,000 people a year and debilitates many more.

And while global infections are falling, in Africa (which accounts for more than 80% of cases) deaths are rising again in the most affected countries.  Added to that, concerns have been raised that new strains of malaria are emerging which are resistant to most medical treatments, so news of another breakthrough is welcome.

Scientists in the United States have succeeded in genetically modifying a fungus that occurs naturally in mosquitos to produce the same toxin as a funnel-web spider.  In tests, this naturally killed off 99% of mosquitos.  The objective of any live exercise would be to kill sufficient numbers of mosquitos to break the cycle of reinfection – by the time the mosquito population had recovered there would be no malaria-infected people for them to become recontaminated from, and malaria would die out.

While the prospect of this is exciting, there are still some challenges.  The use of GM products is still in its infancy and there are ongoing concerns about side-effects, and bio-security needs to be considered.  Although the fungus being used apparently does not affect other insects, there may well be other unforeseen impacts.