The population of mosquitoes spreading malaria could soon be extinct with the success of UK scientists genetically modifying mosquitoes to be infertile. The modified mosquitoes could spread the infertility gene to the species and potentially stop reproduction.

The report, published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, shows malarial mosquitoes have been modified to be infertile for the first time. Researchers from Imperial College London are expecting the infertile mosquitoes could significantly help reduce the spread of malaria.

The offspring carrying one copy of the gene could pass the trait to future generations, while female offspring, inheriting both copies of genes, would be unable to reproduce.

The researchers have genetically modified the species of Anopheles gambiae, known as a major carrier of malaria parasites in sub-Saharan Africa, covering 90 per cent of malaria deaths every year. The disease affects over 200 million people annually, causing over 430,000 deaths.

Researchers used a technology, called gene drive, to modify the mosquitoes. Each gene variant is commonly passed to the offspring by a 50 per cent chance, but the new method used in Anopheles gambiae promoted more than 90 per cent of transmitted gene for infertility to both male and female offspring.

"The field has been trying to tackle malaria for more than 100 years. If successful, this technology has the potential to substantially reduce the transmission of malaria," said co-author Andrea Crisanti, a professor at the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial.

The Imperial team tested the gene drive by identifying three genes affecting female fertility. The genes were then modified using the CRISPR, a DNA cutting tool that can be used to target specific parts of the genetic code.

However, the researchers noted that the gene drive malaria mosquitoes would take at least 10 more years to be an intervention. More steps are needed to test the safety of the approach.

The researchers are aiming to enhance the expression of the gene drive elements, and to determine more genes as target to reduce the potential of mosquitoes evolving resistance to the modification.

"We hope others will use our technique to understand how mosquitoes work, giving us more ammunition in the fight against malaria," said first author Andrew Hammond.

Contact the writer at or tell us what you think below