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Mosquito-killing fungi engineered with spider and scorpion toxins could help fight malaria

Date: 16.6.2017 

Malaria kills nearly half a million people every year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In some of the hardest-hit areas in sub-Saharan Africa, the mosquitoes that carry the malaria parasite have become resistant to traditional chemical insecticides, complicating efforts to fight the disease. 
Kredit: Brian Lovett / University of Maryland.

A new study from the University of Maryland and colleagues from Burkina Faso, China and Australia suggests that a mosquito-killing fungus genetically engineered to produce spider and scorpion toxins could serve as a highly effective biological control mechanism to fight malaria-carrying mosquitoes. The fungus is specific to mosquitoes and does not pose a risk to humans. Further, the study results suggest that the fungus is also safe for honey bees and other insects.

We report that our most potent fungal strains, engineered to express multiple toxins, are able to kill mosquitoes with a single spore," said Brian Lovett, a graduate student in the UMD Department of Entomology and a co-author of the paper. "We also report that our transgenic fungi stop mosquitoes from blood feeding. Together, this means that our fungal strains are capable of preventing transmission of disease by more than 90 percent of mosquitoes after just five days."

The researchers used the fungus Metarhizium pingshaensei, which is a natural killer of mosquitoes. The fungus was originally isolated from a mosquito and previous evidence suggests that the fungus is specific to disease-carrying mosquito species, including Anopheles gambiae and Aedes aegypti. When spores of the fungus come into contact with a mosquito's body, the spores germinate and penetrate the insect's exoskeleton, eventually killing the insect host from the inside out.

 

 


 

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