Malaria research: Mosquito-killing spider juice offers hope
Scientists genetically modify fungus so it produces same toxin as funnel web spider
A mosquito consuming human blood. Photograph: Getty Images
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 per cent, according to the study published in the journal Science.
“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.
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. - PA