Genetically engineered mosquitoes could be vital weapon against malaria
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
627,000 deaths per year: that’s a good figure. Malaria, the deadly illness caused by infected mosquitoes, is on the retreat, thanks to medical treatments that have reduced mortality rates by 42% since 2000. Among African children, the mortality rate has dropped even more: 54%. Even so, one African child dies of malaria every minute, according to the World Health Organisation.
It’s not that NGOs and aid organisations don’t try hard enough to prevent the parasite-infected mosquitoes from biting humans: it’s just that keeping every one of the tiny insects away with nets and insecticides is very hard work.
What if all that mosquito-chasing wasn’t necessary? What if the insects killed themselves? That’s the idea behind Oxitec, an Oxford-based biotech company. It breeds sterile male mosquitoes for release in affected areas. As male mosquitoes always do, they’ll find the females and mate with them – but because they’re sterile, the offspring will die. “We’re using mosquitoes’ biological urge to our advantage”, Oxitec chief executive Hadyn Parry tells Guardian Sustainable Business.