Scientists have discovered a microbe that completely protects mosquitoes from being infected with malaria. The team in Kenya and the UK say the finding has “enormous potential” to control the disease.
Malaria is spread by the bite of infected mosquitoes, so protecting them could in turn protect people.
The researchers are now investigating whether they can release infected mosquitoes into the wild, or use spores to suppress the disease.
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.
How does the microbe stop malaria?
The fine details still need to be worked out. But Microsporidia MB could be priming the mosquito’s immune system, so it is more able to fight off infections.
Or the presence of the microbe in the insect could be having a profound effect on the mosquito’s metabolism, making it inhospitable for the malaria parasite.