It’s early to celebrate, but any news about keeping mosquitoes from spreading malaria is good news. Malaria is a major killer worldwide, with over 400,000 victims each year, most of them children under the age of five who are more susceptible to dying of the side effects of fever.
A team of scientists working together from Kenya and the U.K. was studying mosquito populations around Lake Victoria in Kenya when they found a large population of the insects who did not harbor any of the four malarial plasmodium, the parasites who cause the disease. Further research discovered that instead, these mosquitoes all had a microbe in their gut and genitals. This microbe, which the scientists called Microsporidia MB, appeared to block the mosquitoes from becoming infected with malaria. Lab experiments with the mosquitoes and the microbe confirmed this to be the case.
Lab testing also found: Microsporidia MB infections in mosquitoes appear to be life-long, and beneficial to the mosquito’s health, meaning populations of malaria-proof mosquitoes may have an evolutionary advantage over mosquitoes which can carry the disease.
The microbe is passed from females to their offspring, and can also be passed between adult individuals.
At least 40 percent of all mosquitoes in a region need to be infected with Microsporidia MB to make the area significantly safer for human beings.
These discoveries had the researchers considering options for how to effectively distribute the microbes, should the research further pan out. Microsporidia is, as the name suggests, a fungus, so spores could be released en masse around standing water and other areas attractive to mosquitoes. Or males, which don’t bite, could be infected in a lab setting and then released in the wild to breed with females, infecting them to pass the microbe on to their eggs.
While making mosquitoes healthier to defeat a mosquito-spread disease in humans may seem much more complicated than simply wiping out mosquitoes to break the chain, in fact the insects are an important pollinator in many parts of the world. So if Microsporidia MB proves to be the miracle cure that initial research suggests, we will all benefit.