Researchers from the University of Maryland worked with local scientists and villagers in a western region of Burkina Faso to field test the effectiveness of a mosquito-killing fungus armed with spider venom, Science News reported.
The World Health Organization estimated that “219 million people in 87 countries were infected with malaria, and 435,000 died” in 2017.
The fungus Metahizium pingshaense, known for infecting and killing mosquitos, was genetically engineered to produce a spider toxin called Hybrid. The engineered fungus proved to be effective in controlled lab environments, but researchers needed real-world conditions to test the experiment.
Researchers conducted their study in Burkina Faso, where malaria is omnipresent. The experiment consisted of a control group (where no fungus was present) in one hut, a hut with non-engineered fungus, and a hut with the toxin-producing fungus.
The study coauthor Brian Lovett, an insect pathologist and bioengineer at the University of Maryland, recorded that “in the hut with the toxin-producing fungus, 399 mosquitos hatched in the first generation. But in the second generation, only 13 adults made it.” The experiment was repeated three times and met with similar results.
The engineered fungi may prove to be effective in controlling the spread of malaria through mosquitos. Yet, ecological entomologist Matthew Thomas is unsure about the genetic alterations to the fungus. “It’s almost like a technology looking for an application, rather than a problem needing fixing,” he said.