The possibility of controlling malaria using a newly discovered microbe that blocks transmission of the disease from mosquitoes to people has moved closer to reality with advanced findings by the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology. In a study published on 28 July 2021, the researchers show that the microbe, Microsporidia MB, can be transmitted sexually between mosquitoes, in addition to being passed from mother mosquitoes to their offspring, as reported in the centre’s previous study. This breakthrough will permit the efficient spread of the microbe through mosquito populations, thus limiting their ability to infect people with the parasite that causes malaria. In early 2020, International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology and partners made the groundbreaking finding that malaria mosquitoes containing Microsporidia MB are unable to transmit malaria. The researchers found the microbe, which is related to fungi, occuring naturally inside the cells of the malaria transmitting Anopheles mosquitoes in parts of Kenya. By studying the ways through which it is propagated between mosquitoes, International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology researchers believe they will be able to develop an effective tool for controlling malaria. In the recent study, the scientists show that Microsporidia MB is efficiently transferred between adult mosquitoes during mating. Also, the microbe naturally accumulates in the reproductive organs of male mosquitoes, indicating that it has adapted to spread through mosquito populations through mating. Herren and his team plan to use these results as part of a strategy to increase the spread of Microsporidia MB through mosquito populations in locations in Kenya, thus controlling the spread of malaria in humans. In particular, the researchers are exploring the feasibility of releasing male mosquitoes laden with Microsporidia MB in areas of high malaria transmission. As male mosquitoes do not bite people, they do not pose any malaria-transmission risk. These males would continue with their natural life cycle, infecting wild female mosquitoes with the microbe, which would in turn infect their offspring with the malaria blocking trait. Targeted release of infected male mosquitos and the spread to females and their offspring could initiate a continuous infection cycle across mosquito generations. The result would be a largely self-maintaining and sustainable strategy for malaria control.
This article originally appeared in News of International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology, 2021.
Nattoh G, Maina T, Mbaisi L, Mararo E, Makhulu EE, Teal E, Paredes J, Bargul J, Mburu DM, Onyango EA, Magoma G, Sinkins SP, Herren JK. (2021) Horizontal transmission of the symbiont Microsporidia MB in Anopheles arabiensis. Frontiers in Microbiology. 12, 647183. DOI: 10.3389/fmicb.2021.647183.
Herren JK, Mbaisi L, Mararo E, Makhulu EE, Mobegi VA, Butungi H, Mancini MV, Oundo JW, Teal ET, Pinaud S, Lawniczak MK. (2020). A microsporidian impairs Plasmodium falciparum transmission in Anopheles arabiensis mosquitoes. Nature communications 11, 2187. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-16121-y.
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