Scientists may have discovered a way to eradicate malaria

  • A research team based in Kenya and in the UK have identified a new micro-organism that effectively blocks transmission of malaria from mosquitoes.

    Malaria kills over 400,000 people across the world every year, with 94% of deaths concentrated in Africa and most of them being children udner the age of five. The disease is caused by a parasite that infects female Anopheles mosquitoes and migrates to humans through mosquito bites, with around half the world's population estimated to be at risk of infection.

    Efforts to contain malaria usually involve using insecticides to kill the host mosquitoes and nets to physically block them. Some research in recent years has seen success in controlling the mosquito population by introducing sterile lab-hatched insects into the wild.

    This week researchers announced a significant discovery that could pave the way to effective eradication of malaria, and it all comes down to another microscopic parasite, Microsporidia MB. This microscopic helper was found in populations of mosquitoes in Kenya and seemed to block the plasmodium parasite that causes malaria with 100% effectiveness. Those with the microbe were then unable to pass on malaria.

    This new microbe could potentially be deployed to help eradicate malaria, but further research will be required before that can happen. Scientists would need to find a way to introduce Microsporidia MB to mosquito populations around the world, and would need to reach at least a 40% infection rate to make a significant impact on malaria numbers.

    Microsporidia MB seems to be passed between adult mosquitoes and passed to children, and it doesn't appear to impair the insect's survival or reproductive capabilities. This means that a programme aimed at infecting large numbers of mosquitoes could have long-lasting effects. Researchers are considering a number of methods for delivery, including infecting male mosquitoes in the lab and releasing them into the wild.

    Source: BBC News, Nature

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    Brendan is a Sync NI writer with a special interest in the gaming sector, programming, emerging technology, and physics. To connect with Brendan, feel free to send him an email or follow him on Twitter.

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