Malaria is a parasitic disease transmitted to humans by the Anopheles mosquito. It continues to claim many victims among children, especially in Africa. Scientists are trying to find a way to reduce the incidence of the parasite among Anopheles. The latest focus is on a microscopic fungus that blocks the infection of the mosquito.
Malaria is an infectious disease transmitted by the female Anopheles mosquito. During their feeding of blood, the mosquito involuntarily injects the infectious form of the Plasmodium parasite (Sporozoite), which is found in the insect’s salivary glands. There are five Plasmodium species, but Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax are the most virulent.
The World Health Organization estimates that there was 288 million malaria cases worldwide in 2018. Nearly 445,000 people died of it last year, 67% of whom were children under the age of five.
Researchers are trying to get the population of mosquitoes carrying the parasite under control, as cases of mosquito resistance to chemical treatment of malaria become more common. The solution may be a microscopic fungus that is symbiotic with Anopheles mosquitoes. Indeed, a recent publication in Nature Communications states that the presence of the fungus blocks Plasmodium infection.
A microscopic fungus that interferes with the malaria pathogen.
An intracellular fungus called Microsporidia MB has been found in Anopheles arabiensis in Kenya. Microsporidia MB lives in the intestinal epithelium and ovaries of females without affecting the life of the mosquito.
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Researchers artificially infected two mosquito populations: a population that was free of Microsporidia MB and a mosquito infected population. In the case of mosquitoes carrying Microsporidia, no Plasmodium sporozoites were found in the head, chest or abdomen of any of the insects studied. “The data we have so far suggest that there is a 100% blockage,” says Jeremy Herren, first author of the study, to the BBC.
The associated physiological mechanism needs further refinement. Scientists believe that the presence of the fungus activates the mosquito’s immune system, which is then more effective against the malaria pathogen, or that its presence alters the insect’s metabolism and creates conditions that are hostile to Plasmodium.
Scientists are looking for ways to increase the population of mosquitoes that carry Microsporidia MB to limit the spread of the deadliest malaria in Africa.