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They tested their modified fungus on other insects in Maryland and Burkina Faso, and found that the fungus was not harmful to beneficial species such as honeybees. It won't go to that trouble for other insects, so it's quite safe for beneficial species such as honeybees." After demonstrating the safety of their genetically modified fungus in the lab, Lovett and St.
, a team of scientists from the University of Maryland and Burkina Faso described the first trial outside the laboratory of a transgenic approach to combating malaria.
The study showed that a naturally occurring fungus engineered to deliver a toxin to mosquitoes safely reduced mosquito populations by more than 99% in a screen-enclosed, simulated village setting in Burkina Faso, West Africa.
According to the World Health Organization, malaria affects hundreds of millions of people around the world, killing more than 400,000 annually.
Decades of insecticide use has failed to control mosquitoes that carry the malaria parasite and has led to insecticide-resistance among many mosquito strains.
This transgenic fungus caused mosquito populations in their test site to collapse to unsustainable levels within two generations. It is derived from the venom of the Australian Blue Mountains funnel-web spider and has been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for application directly on crops to control agricultural insect pests.
"You can think of the fungus as a hypodermic needle we use to deliver a potent insect-specific toxin into the mosquito," said St. "Simply applying the transgenic fungus to a sheet that we hung on a wall in our study area caused the mosquito populations to crash within 45 days," Lovett said.
Building that shell is costly for the fungus, so it only makes the effort when it detects the proper surroundings -- inside the bloodstream of a mosquito.
By combining the genetic code for that switch with the code for making Hybrid, the scientists were able to ensure that their modified fungus only produces the toxin inside the body of a mosquito. "They know where they are from chemical signals and the shapes of features on an insect's body. When this fungus detects that it is on a mosquito, it penetrates the mosquito's cuticle and enters the insect.
In response, scientists began genetically modifying mosquitoes and other organisms that can help eradicate mosquitoes.
Until now, none of these transgenic approaches made it beyond laboratory testing.