Scientists have yet to figure out how to get rid of mosquitoes for good (yes, there are people working on that), but they’ve done something almost as good: They’ve developed a genetically modified mosquito that’s resistant to malaria. They’re only flying around a lab for now, but researchers hope the insects will eventually help stop the spread of the disease among humans.
Scientists at the University of California used the CRISPR gene-editing tool to change the DNA of a mosquito found in India, which is known to carry malaria. First, they added a set of genes that deliver antibodies to the malaria parasite that mosquitoes carry, making the bugs resistant to the disease, reports the New York Times. Next, they used a “gene drive” to copy the genes onto both chromosomes of offspring, per the Washington Post. Finally, they added a gene that would give red eyes to affected mosquitoes so scientists could identify them.
The scientists then inserted the genes into 680 wild mosquito larvae. About half grew to adults and were mated with wild mosquitoes. Scientists soon found 99.5% offspring inherited the resistance across three generations, per a release and the BBC. Though scientists have yet to try the same approach in other mosquito species, they expect similar results and say the genes could spread through an entire wild population in 10 generations, or one season. However, natural selection may force other genes to overpower the modified ones, for example, or mutations may block their inheritance to offspring.
“This is the kind of technology where the first trial has to be a success,” a study author says. A researcher says he already plans to use the findings to seek approval for a large trial in an enclosure in Zambia. (Meantime, save yourself with Victoria’s Secret perfume.)