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Researchers: Bacteria may hold secret to stopping malaria

Researchers from Michigan State University have discovered that bacteria may be key to stopping malaria. While mosquitoes are extremely good at transmitting diseases, new researchers reveals that they are also equally skillful at helping cure diseases like malaria.

Michigan State researchers found that that transmission of malaria via mosquitoes to humans can be stopped by utilizing a strain of the bacteria Wolbachia in the tiny insects. According to researchers, this bacteria acts a lot like a vaccine, protecting the mosquitoes from being infected by malaria parasites.

An effective technique for combating malaria is desperately needed, especially in Africa and South America. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, malaria caused 660,000 deaths worldwide in 2010.

Zhiyong Xi, MSU assistant professor of microbiology and molecular genetics, says the Wolbachia-based malaria control strategy has been talked about for the past 20 years. He and his colleagues are the first to show that Wolbachia “can be stably established in … the mosquito species Anopheles stephensi.” This finding allows researchers to move forward with the idea of using Wolbachia for malaria control.

Not only can this mosquito species carry Wolbachia, but the researchers demonstrated that the insects can transmit the bacteria throughout the entire mosquito population. The researchers also demonstrated that Wolbachia can stop the mosquitoes from giving malaria parasites to humans.

The researchers “seeded them into uninfected populations and repeatedly produced a population of predominantly Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes,” says Xi.

Xi previously turned to Wolbachia to stop Dengue fever. For his work, Xi used the mosquito species Aedes albopictus and Aedes aegypti. His studies led to a global effort to use Wolbachia-based strategies to combat other diseases.

For their research to be successful, the researchers had to find the right species of Wolbachia and then place it into mosquito embryos. One Wolbachia-carrying female kept a Wolbachia wAlbB infection with a 100 percent infection frequency through 34 generations.

The researchers found that after introducing various ratios of Wolbachia-infected females into a mosquito population, the entire group carried the bacteria in eight generations or less.

If Wolbachia spreads throughout a mosquito population, like researchers demonstrated in their experiments, the bacteria may never have to be reapplied. Researchers predict a Wolbachia-based malaria strategy would be more economical than spraying or other forms of control and prevention.

The study’s findings are described in detail in the journal Science.

Have you ever had malaria? Will this Wolbachia-based strategy work? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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