Scientists Discover a Microbe That Protects Mosquitoes Against Malaria
Scientists have found a microbe — Microsporidia MB — that protects mosquitoes against malaria signaling “enormous potential” to control the disease.
Microsporidia are fungi, and most are parasites. Through a study, a group of scientists from UK and Kenya found Microsporidia MB was naturally present, in the gut and genitals, of 5% of the mosquitoes they were studying. And not a single mosquito with the Microsporidia MB harbored the malaria parasite. Further, lab experiments, published in Nature Communications, confirmed that the microbe protected them against malaria.
“The data we have so far suggest it is 100% blockage, it’s a very severe blockage of malaria,” said Dr. Jeremy Herren, from the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) in Kenya told the BBC.
Although details about how the microbe protects mosquitoes are being worked out, scientists suspect it could either be priming the insect’s immune system to enable it to fight off infections, or affecting its metabolism, making it difficult for the malaria parasite to survive.
Scientists told the BBC the microbe can be transferred among adult mosquitoes and can also be passed from the female to her offspring. For a region to show a significant reduction in the number of malaria cases, at least 40% of the insects in that particular area will need to be infected with Microsporidia MB, the scientists said.
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Researchers are contemplating two ways to accomplish this. First, to release spores formed by the microbe into the wild to infect all mosquitoes. And second, to infect male mosquitoes in the lab, and release them, assuming they will in turn infect females. These two ways say, researchers, will not kill the mosquitoes, hence they would not have an impact on ecosystems that are dependent on them for food.
“It’s a new discovery. We are very excited by its potential for malaria control. It has enormous potential,” said professor Steven Sinkins, from the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, to BBC.
While experts are still trying to understand how the microbe spreads, they add that they appear to be life-long, suggesting that their malaria-blocking effect would also be long-lasting.
This discovery that may lead to mosquitoes being infected with malaria-protecting microbe may ultimately save more than 4,00,000 people who die from malaria each year, of which a majority are children under 5.
It also comes at a time when due to the Covid19-related lockdown, essential malaria commodities like insecticidal nets, rapid diagnostics tests, and antimalarial medicines like hydroxychloroquine, have taken a hit, highlighting that swift steps be taken lest we lose the gains made in the past two decades in saving lives from malaria.