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Researchers Eliminate Malaria With...Bacteria

Update Date: May 10, 2013 12:31 PM EDT
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According to a recent study conducted by the World Health Organization, 220 million people are infected with malaria each year. In addition, about 660,000 people die from the disease each year. Researchers believe that infecting the mosquito carriers of the malaria parasite with a certain type of bacteria may eliminate the disease altogether.

The research has been conducted with the Anopheles stephensi mosquito, a carrier of the malaria parasite in the Middle East and south Asia. The bacteria in question is called the Wolbachia. The bacteria infects many other insects. Though it infects only females, passing between them and their offspring, it is very good at boosting its chances. For example, in some insects, it will kill off male embryos. In others, it will make males only able to mate successfully with female embryos. In some wasps, the bacteria can cause some females to have offspring without mating, according to the BBC.

However, in the wild, mosquitoes do not carry the bacteria. In fact, researchers did not even know if mosquitoes were physiologically able to support the bacteria. However, a study conducted in Australia has found that mosquitoes infected with a strain of Wolbachia are able to stop transmitting the dengue virus, Nature reports.

A more recent study tried to build on that. According to Science News, the researchers injected the bacteria into thousands of mosquito embryos. In one female embryo, the bacteria took. She was able to successfully pass on the bacteria to her offspring for 34 generations, the entire length of the study. When the mosquitoes were fed with mouse blood that had been infected with Plasmodium falciparum, one of the strains of malaria, the Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes contained 3.4 times lower levels of the parasite than the controls.

However, researchers unaffiliated with the study say that there were many portions of the research that tempered their enthusiasm. The bacteria-infected mosquitoes produced fewer offspring, which is a concern. In addition, anopheles gambiae, a different species of mosquito that carries the malaria parasite in Africa, is a larger problem. Researchers would need to attempt to recreate the study among that species as well.

The study was published in the journal Science.

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