Engineered fungus to be a potent tool against malaria

Spraying mosquitoes with the transgenic fungus significantly reduced parasite development.

Updated: Feb 28, 2011, 13:20 PM IST

Washington: Scientists have genetically engineered a fungus to be a potent, specific and eco-friendly tool against malaria.

"Our transgenic fungal approach is a very flexible one that allows design and delivery of gene products targeted to almost any disease-carrying arthropod," said Raymond St. Leger, professor of entomology at the University of Maryland, the journal Science reports.

Leger, Weiguo Fang and colleagues at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and the University of Westminster, London, created their transgenic anti-malarial fungus by starting with Metarhizium anisopliae.

They inserted anisopliae, a fungus that naturally attacks mosquitoes, into genes for a human antibody or a scorpion toxin, a Hopkins School statement said.

Both the antibody and the toxin specifically target the malaria-causing parasite P. falciparum. The team then compared three groups of mosquitoes all heavily infected with the malaria parasite.

In the first group were mosquitoes sprayed with the transgenic fungus, in the second were those sprayed with an unaltered or natural strain of the fungus, and in the third group were mosquitoes not sprayed with any fungus.

The research team found that compared to the other treatments, spraying mosquitoes with the transgenic fungus significantly reduced parasite development.

P. falciparum was found in the salivary glands of just 25 percent of the mosquitoes sprayed with the transgenic fungi, compared to 87 percent of those sprayed with the wild-type strain of the fungus and to 94 percent of those that were not sprayed.

Even in the 25 percent of mosquitoes that still had parasites after being sprayed with the transgenic fungi, parasite numbers were reduced by over 95 percent compared to the mosquitoes sprayed with the wild-type fungus.

IANS