According to an article on the Science Daily website, scientists have been able to genetically engineer a mosquito that is able to release a protein found in sea cucumbers that may help impair the development of parasites known to cause malaria. The said research states that this new development may be the next step towards discovering new methods in trying to prevent the eventual transmission of malaria by mosquitoes.
An international team of scientists which included Professor Bob Sinden from the Imperial College London’s Department of Life Sciences set out to try to disrupt the development of the malaria parasites in the mosquito’s gut by developing a lethal protein called CEL III which can be found in sea cucumbers.
Malaria is caused by a kind of parasite that lives in the bodies of mosquitoes. These parasites undergo a complex stage of development inside the mosquito every time it feeds on the blood of an infected human. Human blood that is infected with malaria contains parasitic gametocytes which it passes to the mosquitoes and in turn create sperm and eggs while in the gut of the carrier insects. When fertilized, the parasite then leads to producing invasive offspring that is known as ookinetes.
These ookinetes then travel into the mosquito’s stomach wall and then produce sporozites. These sporozites develop for 10 to 20 days and then find their way into the salivary glands of the carrier mosquitoes ready to be passed on to another human being as the insect takes another blood meal.
What the international team of scientists has done is to fuse a part of the sea cucumber lectin gene with a part of a mosquito gene that would enable the mosquito to release lectin into its gut when feeding. Lectin has been known to be toxic to the ookinetes and therefore destroys the parasite inside the mosquitoes gut before they develop further. This impairs the development of the parasite to a stage where it may be passed on to another human being by the mosquito.
According to Prof. Sinden, that the results of the research show a promising means of preventing the spread of malaria by genetically engineering mosquitoes to disrupt the development of parasites that can cause the said disease. But Prof. Sinden further added that there is still a lot to do when it comes to developing the said method for use in combating malaria in a real world scenario.
This is because although the sea cucumber protein may be able to disrupt the development of the parasites inside the guts of mosquitoes, it does not totally remove all the parasites from the mosquitoes and may still not be effective enough to prevent eventual transmission of malaria in humans. What it can do so far is reduce the number of parasites in mosquitoes at a significant level.