Virtual tours of Target Malaria’s insectaries to celebrate World Mosquito Day

Posted 20th August 2020 by Andrew McKemey

In 1897, Sir Ronald Ross made a discovery that would change the world forever: he proved that mosquitoes were responsible for transmitting malaria between humans. World Mosquito Day, celebrated every year on August 20, marks this fundamental discovery.

To celebrate World Mosquito Day, I would like to take you on a virtual tour of our laboratories and insectaries around the world

Target Malaria has labs and insectaries in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Italy, USA, Mali, Uganda and the UK. All our insectaries meet the international safety guidelines and national regulations for the containment of insects, called “Arthropod Containment Level 2 (ACL-2)”. The mosquitoes are kept, reared, and studied in cages at the insectaries. The work carried on each of these locations varies, and even the type of mosquitoes handled can be different but is meant to help researchers learn about mosquitoes’ behaviour. We are particularly interested in how genetically modified mosquitoes behave compared to wild type mosquitoes.

Imperial College London, United Kingdom

Target Malaria started at Imperial College London as a university-based research programme. The work is focused on creating the genetic modification. It is created in the Crisanti laboratory and then injected into mosquitoes in the insectary. The work in London also includes assessing whether, once inserted, the genetic modification behaves as expected and can be maintained for several generations in a small cage (17cm x 17cm or 30cm x 30cm) population, without negative impacts on the mosquitoes.

Polo d’Innovazione di Genomica Genetica e Biologia
 (POLO GGB), Terni, Italy

Target Malaria’s insectary in Italy is based in Polo d’Innovazione di Genomica Genetica e Biologia (PoloGGB) in Terni, in a facility that was purpose-built for Target Malaria in 2016.

The insectary houses four “climatic chambers”. These chambers are equipped with the latest technology to mimic the natural ecological conditions of the mosquitoes’ species being studied (precise regulation and variation of light, temperature and humidity). Two of the chambers are used for rearing the mosquitoes in small, standard cages (0.005 m3). The other two chambers are fitted with 9 large cages (up to 9.2 m3) that are used for experiments. The main work of the laboratory in PoloGGB is to import wild strains of mosquitoes from Africa and transfer the genetic modification from the lab strain (developed at Imperial College) into the wild one. We then analyse the behaviour and characteristics of Target Malaria’s modified mosquitoes, to determine whether they behave like wild mosquitoes and whether they could survive in the wild. Data collected on the modified mosquitoes in these large cages is compared with the information received from the teams doing entomology studies in Africa. These studies are very important to better understand the technology and to inform the regulatory process for import and release in Africa.

Institut de Recherche en Science de la Santé (Burkina Faso) and the Malaria Research and Training Center (Mali)

The teams in Burkina Faso and Mali have labs and insectaries with adequate equipment and safety measures in place to study genetically modified mosquitoes, as well as to analyse the wild mosquitoes collected by entomological teams. They keep records of everything, from where samples were caught to whether they have eggs. Once the project receives the permission from national authorities to work on modified mosquitoes, they will carry comparative studies between wild type mosquitoes and modified mosquitoes, looking for differences on their life cycle and behaviour for example.

Other insectaries worldwide

Target Malaria also has an insectary in Uganda at the Uganda Virus Research Institute, which was inaugurated in July 2019. We do not yet have a video of this new facility to give you a tour, but you can find more information about our work here. In Ghana, the new insectary is being built. In addition, some insectary work is conducted at the CDC Foundation’s insectary facilities in Atlanta, USA.

Safety in the insectaries

As you can see on the virtual tours, safety is paramount for Target Malaria. Our facilities feature Level 2 containment, which means that there are specific measures in place to ensure mosquitoes cannot escape, and that external mosquitoes cannot enter the insectary. Measures include procedural (e.g.: restricted access, training, documentation, audits) and physical measures (e.g.: cages, climatic chambers, several doors from the outside, air and water filters) incorporated in the infrastructure of the facility. Only team members, who received a prior specific training, have access to the insectary (via badge or fingerprint entry). Visitors must be accompanied by an authorised member of the team at all time, and only after they have completed the visitor induction training.

All insectaries undergo inspection by national authorities and regulatory agencies to ensure they meet national requirements and that staff are adequately trained to work safely in the insectary before any research with modified mosquitoes takes place. In addition, all of Target Malaria’s insectaries are audited internally by the project to ensure they meet the projects internal standard of “facilities readiness[1]” before undertaking any project activity.

For us, the mosquito is both part of the problem we want to address, and part of the solution we aim to offer. That is what makes World Mosquito Day so special for Target Malaria. It is a date to celebrate the progress the world made in the fight against malaria since 1897, and to remind us that this battle is not finished yet.

You can find more information, resources and guidance to support World Mosquito Day activities at the website of the RBM Partnership to End Malaria. Join us to create a buzz this World Mosquito Day!

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5770120/