A team of scientists in Kenya and the U.K have discovered a microbe that completely protects mosquitoes from being infected with malaria.
According to the team, the findings has “enormous potential” to control the disease and are now investigating whether they can release infected mosquitoes into the wild, or use spores to suppress the disease.
The malaria-blocking bug, Microsporidia MB, was discovered by studying mosquitoes on the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya. It lives in the gut and genitals of the insects.
Microsporidias are fungi, or at least closely related to them, and most are parasites.
“The data we have so far suggest it is 100% blockage, it’s a very severe blockage of malaria,” Dr Jeremy Herren, from the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) in Kenya told the BBC.
He added: “It will come as a quite a surprise. I think people will find that a real big breakthrough.”
The details of how the microb will still needs to be worked out.
But Microsporidia MB could be priming the mosquito’s immune system, so it is more able to fight off infections.
Or the presence of the microbe in the insect could be having a profound effect on the mosquito’s metabolism, making it inhospitable for the malaria parasite.
Microsporidia MB infections appear to be life-long. If anything, the experiments show they become more intense, so the malaria-blocking effect would be long-lasting.
More than 400,000 people are killed by malaria each year, most of them children under the age of five.
While huge progress has been made through the use of bed nets and spraying homes with insecticide, this has stalled in recent years. It is widely agreed new tools are needed to tackle malaria.