A strain of bacteria could become a weapon in the fight against malaria, according to a new article published in the journal Science.
Each year, malaria kills approximately 660,000 people around the world, according to the World Health Organization. The disease affects nearly half the world’s population and spans more than 100 countries across five continents.
The malaria parasite is spread to humans through the bite of infected female mosquitos. It is no surprise, then, that scientists have been working with these insects to figure out how to stop the disease. Recently, hope came from a team at Michigan State University, where researchers put a new theory to the test.
In the past, studies showed that a type of bacteria called Wolbachia could make mosquitoes resistant to the dengue virus. Would it be possible, the scientists wondered, for the bacteria to have the same affect with malaria? To test the idea, the team infected a group of mosquitoes with Wolbachia. To their delight, the bacteria suppressed the reproduction of malaria parasites in these insects, signaling that it could conceivably help control the disease.
While the implementation of a strategy using Wolbachia “will be the challenge,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the United States, told the BBC. He added that “this could conceivably have an important impact on the control of malaria.” Scientists would need to find a way for the bacteria to survive and proliferate in regions plagued by the disease.
To know whether the bacteria will fight malaria worldwide, additional research will be required. The study only included one species of malaria-carrying mosquito, Anopheles stephensi, which lives in the Middle East and South Asia. Anopheles gambiae in Africa causes the vast majority of Malaria-related deaths.
"If we target Anopheles gambiae we would need to apply the same technique again,” Dr Zhiyong Xi, one of the researchers, told the BBC.
To read the full study, click here.