Scientists find a weapon to fight malaria: mosquitoes

A new and potentially revolutionary weapon in the fight against malaria has been developed by scientists who have found a way of killing the parasite within the mosquitoes that spread the disease.

A new and potentially revolutionary weapon in the fight against malaria has been developed by scientists who have found a way of killing the parasite within the mosquitoes that spread the disease.

Most recent effort against malaria has concentrated on treating the disease in humans or controlling mosquito populations, but now scientists have discovered that parts of the insect's immune system can destroy the malaria parasite.

The findings open the prospect of a third front against the disease with the development of a chemical spray that stops malaria infecting the insect, thereby preventing transmission to man. Professor Fotis Kafatos of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, who led the study, said: "These studies are the first to show the power of the mosquito's immune system and give us some very real options for fighting the disease."

Scientists have known for years that some mosquitoes can carry malaria whilst others do not. The reason, however, was not known. The scientists found four proteins produced by the mosquito's immune system that affect the ability of the malaria parasite, plasmodium, to survive in the insect's gut and blood system. Two of the proteins stop plasmodium developing, while the other two allow it to develop normally.

It may be now possible to create genetically altered malaria-resistant mosquitoes, which could then be released into the wild to interbreed with existing populations. Another approach could be to develop a spray that caused wild mosquitoes to produce more of the parasite-blocking protein.

"We now see a way to potentially stop the parasite in its tracks," Professor Kafatos said.

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