GM fungus causes ‘crash’ in mosquito populations, study suggests

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GM fungus causes ‘crash’ in mosquito populations, study suggests

The fight against malaria has been given a significant boost after scientists made a genetically modified fungus containing spider venom, finding it wiped out disease-carrying mosquitoes within days.

The field tests were carried out in a specially constructed "mosquito dome" in rural Burkina Faso, west Africa, sealing in an area the size of three tennis courts...

They used a toxin found in the venom of an Australian funnel-web spider, and the genetic instructions needed to produce the toxin were added to the genetic code of the fungus. It was surrounded by a double layer of mosquito netting to prevent anything escaping. The WHO warns that there has been "no significant progress in reducing global malaria cases" in recent years.

"And it is as effective at killing insecticide-resistant mosquitoes as non-resistant ones".

Insecticides can also have toxic effects on human health and the environment, further spurring efforts to find alternative methods of controlling malaria. The mosquitoes would be exposed to the fungus once they land on these sheets.

In 2017, the number of deaths caused by malaria reached 435,000. The researchers then proceeded to test the fungus in a controlled real-world setting. The new version was termed Mp-Hybrid.

"A spider uses its fangs to pierce the skin of insects and inject toxins, we replaced the fangs of spider with Metarhizium", Prof St Leger explained. Local honeybees were deliberately infected with fungal spores, but none were infected or died during two weeks of close monitoring.

"The toxins we're using are potent, but totally specific to insects".

Importantly, this fungus did not have lethal effects on important insect species including bees.

Researchers enhanced the pingshaense fungus, with Professor Raymond St Leger, from the University of Maryland, telling BBC News that the fungus is "very malleable" and that "you can genetically engineer them very easily". However, after 45 days, only 13 mosquitoes were left as the spider-toxin fungus was used.

The use of transgenic fungus is one of many innovative approaches to combating mosquitoes using biology. The researchers started the experiments with 1,500 mosquitoes. With the World Health Organization stressing that cases in the 10 worst affected countries in Africa are increasing, it's paramount that pioneering research in this area continues. But don't expect implacable anti-GMO activists to care about that one whit.

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