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

A fungus genetically engineered to produce spider venom can quickly kill mosquitoes spreading malaria, a study suggests.

Scientists from the University of Maryland and Burkina Faso applied the pathogen to a sheet, which was hung up in a mock-up village.

The approach was successful in reducing mosquito populations by more than 99%, according to the study published in the journal Science.

The MosquitoSphere was designed to simulate a village setting (Etienne Bilgo/PA)
The MosquitoSphere was designed to simulate a village setting (Etienne Bilgo/PA)

“No transgenic malaria control has come this far down the road toward actual field testing,” Brian Lovett, from the University of Maryland, said.

“This paper marks a big step and sets a precedent for this and other transgenic methods to move forward.”

The researchers engineered the naturally-occurring fungus to deliver a toxin to mosquitoes.

The toxin, an insecticide called Hybrid, comes from the venom of the Australian Blue Mountains funnel-web spider.

First trial outside the lab of a transgenic for #malaria shows #UMD technology could safely reduce malaria mosquitoes, including insecticide-resistant strains. Published today in @sciencemagazine#UMDinnovates@lovettbr@UMDEntomology

— UMD Science (@UMDscience) May 30, 2019

The fungus was then tested in a simulated village setting in Burkina Faso, in West Africa – a structure called the MosquitoSphere – which included plants, huts, small pools of water and a food source for mosquitoes.

Mr Lovett said: “Simply applying the transgenic fungus to a sheet that we hung on a wall in our study area caused the mosquito populations to crash within 45 days.

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

The fungus was found to be safe for other insects and honeybees.

More than 400,000 people die from malaria every year, according to the World Health Organisation.