They used a technology called "gene drive" to ensure the gene for infertility is passed down at an accelerated rate to offspring -- spreading the gene through a population over time and raising the possibility of reducing the spread of disease.

Within a few years, the spread could drastically reduce or eliminate local populations of the malaria-carrying mosquito species. The mosquito species Anopheles gambiae is a major carrier of malaria parasites in sub-Saharan Africa, where 90 percent of annual malaria deaths occur.

Malaria infects over 200 million people each year and causes more than 430,000 deaths."Scientists have been trying to tackle malaria for more than 100 years. If successful, this technology has the potential to substantially reduce the transmission of malaria," said study co-author professor Andrea Crisanti.

Normally, each gene variant has 50 percent chance of being passed down from parents to their offspring.In the team's experiments with Anopheles gambiae, the gene for infertility was transmitted to more than 90 percent of both male and female mosquitoes' offspring.

The technique uses recessive genes so that many mosquitoes will inherit only one copy of the gene.Two copies are needed to cause infertility, meaning that mosquitoes with only one copy are carriers, and can spread the gene through a population.This is the first time the technique has been demonstrated in Anopheles gambiae.

The results were published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

 

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