A fungus genetically engineered to produce spider venom can quickly kill mosquitoes spreading malaria, a study suggests.
Scientists from the University of Maryland and Burkina Faso applied the pathogen to a sheet, which was hung up in a mock-up village.
The approach was successful in reducing mosquito populations by more than 99%, according to the study published in the journal Science.
“No transgenic malaria control has come this far down the road toward actual field testing,” Brian Lovett, from the University of Maryland, said.
“This paper marks a big step and sets a precedent for this and other transgenic methods to move forward.”
The researchers engineered the naturally-occurring fungus to deliver a toxin to mosquitoes.
The toxin, an insecticide called Hybrid, comes from the venom of the Australian Blue Mountains funnel-web spider.
First trial outside the lab of a transgenic for #malaria shows #UMD technology could safely reduce malaria mosquitoes, including insecticide-resistant strains. Published today in @sciencemagazine #UMDinnovates @lovettbr @UMDEntomologyhttps://t.co/3be4LQ7n1B pic.twitter.com/5FN7Mn5UeB— UMD Science (@UMDscience) May 30, 2019
The fungus was then tested in a simulated village setting in Burkina Faso, in West Africa – a structure called the MosquitoSphere – which included plants, huts, small pools of water and a food source for mosquitoes.
Mr Lovett said: “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.
“And it is as effective at killing insecticide-resistant mosquitoes as non-resistant ones.”
The fungus was found to be safe for other insects and honeybees.
More than 400,000 people die from malaria every year, according to the World Health Organisation.