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A novel way to attack malaria by making the mosquitoes resistant to it

malaria

The ultimate conquest of malaria is producing innovative new approaches.  The most cost effective so far has been training people to use mosquito nets treated with chemicals.  Many others have concentrated on new methods of treating infected humans, or of immunizing them against the plasmodium parasite.  Some try to replace the anopheles mosquitoes by genetically modified ones that will not carry the plasmodium.  Now something totally new is at the development stage.  Researchers have found a bacterial strain that can infect mosquitoes and make them resistant to the malaria parasite.

Researchers at Michigan State University have looked at the Wolbachia bacterium which commonly affects insects including some butterflies and ladybirds.  It does not normally target anopheles mosquitoes, but any temporarily affected were made malarial resistant.

“The challenge was to turn a temporary infection into one that would be passed on. The research team found a strain of Wolbachia that could persist in one species of mosquito, Anopheles stephensi, for the entire length of the study – 34 generations.”

Although it is only one strain of anopheles, more associated with malaria in the Middle East and South Asia than in Africa, the technique could theoretically be applies to other types of mosquito.  And a different strain of Wolbachia has already been shown by Australian researchers to curb the spread of Dengue fever by mosquitoes in the wild.  I rate the conquest of malaria to be one of the most exciting and worthwhile activities that people are engaged in.  It is attracting some really talented researchers and creative thinkers.  The extinction of smallpox was an historic day for humankind, and who can doubt that malaria’s turn will come, freeing people forever from the curse of their most ancient and persistent enemy.

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