Southern California scientist creating mutant mosquitoes

Friday, February 5, 2016
Southern California scientist creating mutant mosquitoes
Dr. Anthony James is creating mutant mosquitoes at UC Irvine in hopes of fighting malaria and the Zika virus.

IRVINE, Calif. -- A vector biologist at University of California, Irvine is creating mutant mosquitoes. By injecting the insects' DNA with antibodies taken from mice, Dr. Anthony James said he has successfully taken away their ability to spread malaria.

"We've given the mosquito a little piece of the mouse immune system that allows them to fight off human malaria, and it worked in the mosquito as well," said James.

Over the course of their experiment, James and his colleagues from University of California, San Diego found a 99 percent success rate in passing on the anti-malaria trait to the larvae. It's a result that gave James hope this science could be one part of saving millions of lives from one of the world's deadliest diseases.

"People working in the drug area, the vaccine area, and then those of us working with the vectors," James said. "Working together, I think we can have a big impact."

Though his work targets malaria, James believes they could replicate the results to deal with the rapidly spreading Zika virus. Another project, similar to this one, is underway in Brazil right now.

This week, the World Health Organization declared the virus and its suspected link to birth defects, a global health emergency.

"In both cases, both malaria and Zika, what we would expect to see would be fewer or no people getting infected, and few or no people getting sick," James explained.

James said there are critics to this and similar experiments focused on dealing with altering the genetics of a living creature and the impact on the environment. He said they're taking steps to ease those concerns and stated they've addressed the issues in their experiment.

"These are things that come from other places, and if we have an opportunity to sort of rid our environment of them, we're actually correcting the environment," said James.

James and his team are now looking for grants and funding for a $30 million, five-year project to release the mutant mosquitoes into the wild, and monitor their effect.