A team of scientists in Kenya and the UK are hailing the “enormous potential” of a new strategy to control malaria, after discovering that a microbe completely protects mosquitoes from infection.
“The data we have so far suggest it is 100% blockage,” Dr. Jeremy Herren of the International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology told BBC News. “Quite a surprise… I think people will find that a real big breakthrough.”
Now, they are developing plans to spread the microbe through mosquito populations in infected regions, in an unprecedented effort to eliminate the 400,000 deaths that result from the disease each year.
While studying mosquitoes near the waters of Kenya’s Lake Victoria, the researchers unexpectedly came across a protective fungus called ‘Microsporidia MB,’ which was already in the bodies of the insects.
Now, their goal is to disseminate the microbe in at least 40% of mosquitoes in malaria-infected regions.
Two main methods are being considered: the mass release of spores of the microbe in areas where many mosquitoes live, or implanting the microbe in male mosquitoes (who don’t bite) in the lab, who would then spread it to female mosquitoes, who spread the disease through their bites.
Equally important is the fact that neither of these approaches would kill the mosquitoes, thus preserving the delicate balance between ecosystems and food chains.
Their promising lab research was published in the prestigious scientific journal, Nature, where they wrote “These findings are significant in terms of regional malaria transmission and epidemiology as well as risk-mapping.”
Such a program would be the biggest leap forward in the effort to eradicate malaria since infections had dropped by 40% leading up to 2014 due to mass mosquito net distribution by UNICEF and their partners such as the Global Fund.
– Photo by Dean Calma / IAEA, CC license
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