Scientists have discovered a microbe that blocks any transmission of malaria in a breakthrough that could unlock a way to eradicate the disease.
The microbe – named Microsporidia MB – lives in the stomach and genitals of mosquitoes. It completely prevents mosquitoes from being infected with malaria or transmitting the disease to humans, according to the team at Kenya’s International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology.
Breeding malaria-free mosquitoes
The microbe is only carried by about five per cent of mosquitoes living around Lake Victoria in Kenya, where the research was conducted, but the scientists hope more microbe-carrying mosquitoes could be bred.
“We were excited to find that the Microsporidia MB symbiont is transmitted from mother mosquitoes to their offspring, and that the microbe does not compromise the ability of mosquitoes to survive,” explained Lilian Mbaisi, a Kenyan scholar involved in the study.
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The scientists could infect male mosquitoes with the microbe, which would then pass it on to females and their offspring. Once at least 40 per cent of a regional mosquito population is carrying the microbe, malaria infection rates should start to fall.
Fumigation and nets are the two main strategies for controlling malaria infection currently (Photo: LUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty)
Although progress has been made in controlling and treating malaria in recent years, the disease is still responsible for the deaths of around 400,000 people a year .
Prevention methods are still crude, relying on spraying insecticide and distributing bed nets to affected areas. Such measures are vulnerable to disruption – last month the World Health Organisation warned deaths from the disease could double in Africa this year because of the disruption and travel restrictions wrought by Covid-19.
© João P. Burini Close-up of a yellow-fever mosquito biting human skin, it’s a culicidae vector of malaria, yellow fever, chikungunya, dengue and zika virus in Brazil, known locally as mosquito da dengue.
Controlling the prevalence of malaria at the source could be a much more effective, and resilient, means of curbing infection rates.
More work is needed to understand how the infection spreads, but because the microbe is already circulating among mosquitoes in Kenya it should be straightforward to increase its prevalence.
The microbe has “provides attractive prospects for malaria control,” the paper published in Nature Communications, concluded.