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Gates Foundation spending $4M to create malaria-killing mosquitoes

Killer gene is the new GMO.

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Oxitec is genetically modifying mosquitoes to combat malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

Using mosquitoes to stop malaria? That's the plan.

Biotech company Oxitec is partnering with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to create genetically engineered mosquitoes that will help combat the spread of malaria, Oxitec said in a release on Tuesday. The Gates Foundation is giving $4 million for Oxitec, a subsidiary of Intrexon and formed by Oxford University, to create so-called "Friendly Mosquitoes," which pass along a gene mutation that kills the insect before they can bite humans.

"Vector control has played a critical role in reducing cases and deaths due to malaria over the past 15 years," said Philip Welkhoff, director of the malaria program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in the release. "Genetically-modified mosquitoes are showing promise in controlling other vector-borne diseases, so we look forward to exploring their use alongside complementary interventions for malaria."

The Gates Foundation has given $2 billion worth of grants over the past two decades to fight malaria, according to Business Insider. Malaria is caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected mosquitoes. In 2015, nearly 212 million people were infected and roughly 429,000 died, according to the World Health Organization.

Oxitec's method is to unleash genetically engineered male mosquitoes to mate with wild female mosquitoes, which might carry malaria. Their offspring will carry the self-limiting gene, and the female mosquitoes -- only females bite -- will die before they become capable of biting people. This should help limit the transmission of malaria. The gene can be passed along for up to 10 generations.  In addition to malaria, the Zika virus could also be reduced, the company said. 

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