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Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Expected by 2033, Scientists Report Progress

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genetically modified mosquitoes expected by 2033 scientists report progress
genetically modified mosquitoes expected by 2033 scientists report progress
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In an effort to combat malaria, researchers are working on breeding genetically modified mosquitoes that will produce only male mosquitoes or males rendered infertile. The Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) has revealed plans to have these genetically modified mosquitoes ready within the next ten years. This initiative is part of the Africa Target Malaria project, which the government has been pursuing since 2016 to reduce malaria-related deaths in the country.

Dr. Jonathan Kayondo, one of the researchers involved in the project, shared this information during an anti-malarial training session for journalists in Kalangala District. He mentioned that if the non-gene-drive (sterilized) mosquitoes show positive results at every stage of research, the gene-drive mosquitoes could become a reality in a decade. The purpose of the training was to bridge information gaps related to the project.

The researchers are currently developing sterile male mosquitoes incapable of fertilizing female anopheles mosquitoes, which are known to spread malaria. This approach aims to decrease the number of female malaria-spreading mosquitoes and reduce the number of female mosquito eggs laid, as natural female anopheles mosquitoes can lay up to 300 eggs. Scientists hope to introduce a gene that ensures the production of female anopheles mosquitoes from one generation to the next.

The ongoing research involves the collection of mosquito species from various regions in Uganda, which are housed in the insectarium at UVRI’s headquarters in Entebbe, Wakiso District. Scientists are studying their behavior regarding human biting and mating patterns. Collaboration is also taking place with researchers from Burkina Faso, Mali, and Ghana.

In addition to genetically modified mosquitoes, traditional anti-malarial methods such as sleeping under treated mosquito nets will continue to be used. This is because natural anopheles mosquitoes will coexist with the modified ones.

Dr. Tom Lutalo, the assistant director of UVRI, emphasized the government’s close monitoring of the research to ensure compliance with Uganda’s technological laws. There is consideration of releasing large numbers of genetically modified mosquitoes into the wild to influence future generations of malaria-causing mosquitoes.

Malaria Cases: The World Health Organization reports approximately 200 million malaria-related deaths worldwide each year, with 90 percent occurring in Africa. In Uganda, Ministry of Health records show that out of every 100 individuals visiting healthcare facilities nationwide, 40 are diagnosed with malaria. Among these 40 cases, 20 result in fatalities. While malaria cases in Kalangala District are expected to be higher, underreporting is common due to limited healthcare-seeking behavior.