[ExI] Malaria

John Clark johnkclark at gmail.com
Fri May 31 12:59:08 UTC 2019

There is an interesting article in today's issue of the Journal Science
about a type of fungus called Metarhizium pingshaense. This fungus is very
specialized, it makes its living by infecting just one species of mosquito,
the Anopheline, which also happens to be the single most important carrier
of Malaria. Over millions of years the mosquito has developed a resistance
to the fungus so now it's just an inconvenience and is rarely fatal to the
insect. So scientists used genetic engineering to put the gene that the
that Funnel-Wed Spider uses to make its venom into the fungus, this vastly
increases the fungus's fire power so it can now kill the bug even at very
low concentrations. In a 6,500 square foot jungle enclosure they found that
the fungus now killed more that 99% of the Anopheline mosquitos and even
more important it killed nothing else.

This report has just come out but already there are howls of protest.  Some
who say this technology shouldn't be used because genetic engineering is
inherently evil. Others say is would be immoral to drive a species into
extinction even if it's only an insect. The head of the Mother Earth
Foundation said "Fighting malaria is something that everybody should do.
But fighting malaria through genetic engineering is dangerous". I guess he
things 400,000 people dying every year is not dangerous.


*Malaria control efforts require implementation of new technologies that
manage insecticide resistance. Metarhizium pingshaenseprovides an
effective, mosquito-specific delivery system for potent insect-selective
toxins. A semifield trial in a MosquitoSphere (a contained, near-natural
environment) in Soumousso, a region of Burkina Faso where malaria is
endemic, confirmed that the expression of an insect-specific toxin (Hybrid)
increased fungal lethality and the likelihood that insecticide-resistant
mosquitoes would be eliminated from a site. Also, as Hybrid-expressing M.
pingshaense is effective at very low spore doses, its efficacy lasted
longer than that of the unmodified Metarhizium. Deployment of transgenic
Metarhizium against mosquitoes could (subject to appropriate registration)
be rapid, with products that could synergistically integrate with existing
chemical control strategies to avert insecticide resistance.*

Transgenic Metarhizium rapidly kills mosquitoes in a malaria-endemic region
of Burkina Faso <https://science.sciencemag.org/content/364/6443/894>

John K Clark
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