A team of researchers in Kenya and the UK say they have discovered a microbe that completely protects mosquitoes from being infected with malaria. The researchers say the finding has “enormous potential” to control the disease. After all, malaria is spread by the bite of infected mosquitoes, so protecting them could in turn protect people.
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 harbouring the malaria parasite. And lab experiments, published in Nature Communications, confirmed the microbe gave the mosquitoes protection.
Microsporidias 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.
While huge progress has been made in tackling malaria through the use of bed nets and spraying homes with insecticide, this has stalled in recent years. It is widely agreed new tools are needed to tackle malaria.
The scientists need to understand how the microbe spreads, so they plan to perform more tests in Kenya. However, these approaches are relatively uncontroversial as the species is already found in wild mosquitoes and is not introducing something new. It also would not kill the mosquitoes, so would not have an impact on ecosystems that are dependent on them as food. This is part of other strategies like a killer fungus that can almost completely collapse mosquito populations in weeks.
As always, we’ll be keeping an eye on this interesting development.