The End of Malaria
Could this mean an end to malaria? Well, let us hope so. Scientists have discovered a microbe that completely protects mosquitoes from being infected with Malaria. Malaria is spread by the bite of infected mosquitoes, so protecting them could, in turn, protect people.
The researchers are now investigating whether they can release infected mosquitoes into the wild, or use spores to suppress the disease.
The malaria-blocking bug, Microsporidia MB, was discovered by studying mosquitoes on the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya. It lives in the gut and genitals of the insects.
The researchers could not find a single mosquito carrying the Microsporidia that was harboring the malaria parasite. And lab experiments, published in Nature Communications, confirmed the microbe gave the mosquitoes protection.
Microsporidia are fungi, or at least closely related to them, and most are parasites.
However, this new species may be beneficial to the mosquito and was naturally found in around 5% of the insects studied.
So, the researchers are investigating two main strategies for increasing the number of infected mosquitoes.
Microsporidia form spores which could be released en masse to infect mosquitoes
Male mosquitoes (which don’t bite) could be infected in the lab and released into the wild to infect the females when they have sex
“It’s a new discovery. We are very excited by its potential for malaria control. It has enormous potential,” Prof Steven Sinkins, from the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, told the BBC.
How does it stop Malaria?
Microsporidia MB could be priming the mosquitoes’ immune system, making it more able to fight infections. Its presence could also have a profound effect on mosquitoes’ metabolism, making it inhospitable for the malarial parasite.
Microsporidia MB infections appear to be life-long, they become more intense with time thus blocking the malaria parasite for long.
When can this be used?
At least 40% of mosquitoes in a region need to be infected with Microsporidia MB in order to make a significant impact on the malarial parasite.
The microbe can be passed between adult mosquitoes and also passed from females to her offsprings. Hence, the male mosquitoes could be infected with the microbe, to help to spread it sexually to the female mosquitoes, who would, in turn, pass it to their offsprings.