Scientists Genetically Engineer Glow-in-the-Dark Mosquito Killing Fungus to Produce Spider and Scorpion Venom

Posted on June 15, 2017

Scientists have genetically engineered a mosquito-killing fungus. The fungus glows in the dark and produces spider and scorpion toxins. The fungus can be seen on the dead female mosquito above.

The fungus was created by researchers from the University of Maryland and colleagues from Burkina Faso, China and Australia. The researchers say the fungus is "specific to mosquitoes and does not pose a risk to humans." They also claim it will not harm honey bees and other insects.

Brian Lovett, a graduate student in the UMD Department of Entomology and a co-author of the paper published in Scientific Reports, says in a statement, "In this paper, we report that our most potent fungal strains, engineered to express multiple toxins, are able to kill mosquitoes with a single spore. We also report that our transgenic fungi stop mosquitoes from blood feeding. Together, this means that our fungal strains are capable of preventing transmission of disease by more than 90 percent of mosquitoes after just five days."

The scientists used the Metarhizium pingshaensei fungus which is a natural mosquito killer and engineered it by adding several genes that express neurotoxins from spider and scorpion venom. This was done to boost the fungus' deadly power. When spores of the fungus come into contact with a mosquito's body, the spores germinate and penetrate the insect's exoskeleton. This eventually kills the insect host from the inside out. The researchers say the unaltered fungus requires high doses of spores and a large amount of time to kill a mosquito host. They wanted the spores to have a greater deadly impact so they created the engineered fungus. They also made the fungus express a green fluorescent protein for easy identification.

The scientists tested the engineered fungus strain on insecticide-resistant mosquitoes caught in Burkina Faso. They found it kills mosquitoes much more effectively and quickly. The researchers found the most effective fungus strain they created uses a combination of two toxins, one derived from the North African desert scorpion Androctonus australis and another derived from the Australian Blue Mountains funnel-web spider Hadronyche versuta.

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