21st June, 2018

Tata scientists to change mosquito DNA to eradicate malaria, dengue

Enough is been done to immunize our homes, our surroundings and even our bodies to contain the menace of deadly malaria. But you might be surprised to know the new approach to eradicate malaria from India.

What is it?

The work to explore a new “gene-editing” technology is going on that would modify the DNA-structure of Indian mosquitoes. This is expected to halt the spread of the disease.

Whose idea is it?

The research is being conducted by Tata Trusts, the social arm of the Tata Group. It is investing over Rs 450 crore to set up The Tata Institute of Genetics and Society in Bengaluru. The investment is to be infused over the next 5 years. The facility would be established in collaboration with the University of California San Diego in the US and the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine (InStem) in Bengaluru. The facility in the US is already operational and the Indian unit will be launched by end of this year or early next year.

How will it be done?

The Institute has demonstrated that the mosquito Anopheles stephensi can be genetically engineered to contain the spread of plasmodium falciparum parasite that the mosquitoes help transmit and spread. The malaria and dengue carrier mosquitoes are widely present in India. The Tata Institute of Genetics and Society researchers and collaborators are developing mosquito strains that may be used to reduce malaria transmission, using a mosquito vector replacement rather than a vector-elimination strategy. The scientists to work on the project would soon be hired by the Tata Trusts. It expects to hire about 40-50 scientists in the first 2-3 years of the research programme.

India: A cradle for mosquito-borne disease

Mosquito borne diseases are increasing in India. The incidents of malaria are now combined with dengue, chikungunya and zika virus.