Researchers have discovered a new bacterium that can prevent malaria parasites from developing in mosquitoes, which could potentially lead to a new way of controlling the disease.
What is malaria and how is it transmitted?
Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by a single-celled parasite called Plasmodium, which infects red blood cells and causes fever, chills, headache, and other symptoms. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there were an estimated 247 million cases of malaria and 619,000 deaths in 2021, mostly among children under five years old in sub-Saharan Africa.
Malaria is transmitted by female Anopheles mosquitoes, which bite infected people and then pass on the parasite to others when they feed on their blood. The parasite has a complex life cycle that involves several stages of development in both the human and the mosquito hosts.
How does the new bacterium affect malaria parasites?
The new bacterium, called Delftia, was found in a laboratory colony of Anopheles mosquitoes that were resistant to malaria infection. The researchers, from GSK and the Johns Hopkins University Malaria Research Institute, discovered that Delftia produces a toxic substance called harmane, which kills the malaria parasites in the mosquito midgut and salivary glands.
The researchers tested the effect of Delftia on different species and strains of malaria parasites, and found that it was effective against all of them. They also showed that Delftia can spread in mosquito breeding sites, which could facilitate its introduction into wild mosquito populations.
What are the implications of this finding?
The researchers believe that this finding could open up a new avenue for malaria control, by using Delftia-infected mosquitoes to reduce or eliminate malaria transmission in endemic areas. They suggest that releasing large numbers of Delftia-infected mosquitoes could create a self-sustaining intervention that would not require repeated applications or maintenance.
However, they also acknowledge that there are many challenges and uncertainties involved in this approach, such as the ecological and ethical implications of releasing genetically modified organisms into the environment, the potential for resistance or adaptation by the parasite or the mosquito, and the regulatory and social barriers to implementing such a strategy.
Therefore, they emphasize that more research and testing are needed to evaluate the feasibility and safety of this method, as well as to compare it with other existing or emerging tools for malaria prevention and elimination.