Arming Fungi with Spider Toxin Can Be Used to Fight Malaria Mosquitos


In a new study to explore the effectiveness of fungi armed with mosquito toxin, the results indicate that this technique can be a very effective way to kill mosquitos. The field trials were conducted in a netted outdoor environment in the West African nation of Burkina Faso. The findings of the study co-authored by Raymond St. Leger, an entomologist at the University of Maryland in College Park, are reported in Science.

Weaponizing the Fungi

The fungi used in the study were Metarhizium pingshaense. These were genetically engineered to produce a spider toxin. At the close of the study, this fungus has successfully eliminated the mosquito populations in two generations.

Malaria is a very deadly disease spread by a species of mosquito. As many as 219 million people are estimated to have been infected by the disease in 2017, according to the World Health Organization. This wide-spread infection occurred in 87 countries and led to the deaths of 435,000 people. The greater portion of the malaria cases came from Africa, with cases on the continent making up 92% and malaria deaths in Africa making up 93% of the total.

The reason the fungus Metarhizium pingshaense was used in the research was its natural ability to infect and kill mosquitos. What the genetic modification did was to increase its killing power. This was done by adding a gene that produces Hybrid, a deadly spider bite toxin. The trigger for the production of Hybrid was specifically engineered to be the presence of hemolyph, which is the blood equivalent in a mosquito.

The next step of the research is to test out the closed environment findings in a real-world setting. If the effects are the same, these engineered fungi could play a major role in mosquito control and malaria prevention. This method could be very useful in killing insecticide-resistant mosquitoes.

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