Scientists in the US have discovered a strain of bacteria that could prevent the transmission of malaria via mosquitoes to humans.
Researchers at Michigan State University found that the malaria parasite struggled to survive in mosquitoes infected with wAlB – a strain of Wolbachia.
It is hoped that ‘vaccinating’ mosquitoes against malaria would reduce human cases.
MSU assistant professor of microbiology and molecular genetics Dr Zhiyong Xi said; "Our work is the first to demonstrate Wolbachia can be stably established in a key malaria vector, the mosquito species Anopheles stephensi, which opens the door to use Wolbachia for malaria control."
One of the major limitations preventing the development of Wolbachia for malaria control has been the inability to establish inherited infections of Wolbachia in malaria-carrying anopheline mosquitoes, until now.
In the study, Xi identified the correct species of Wolbachia and injected it into thousands of mosquito embryos.
Out of these embryos, one developed into a female that carried Wolbachia and maintained a 100% infection frequency for the entire length of the study – 34 generations.
Wolbachia species are present in mature eggs, but not mature sperm. Only infected females therefore pass the infection on to their offspring.
Xi has previously shown that a different strain of Wolbachia can prevent the spread of dengue fever by mosquitoes. That research is more advanced and has been shown to work in large trials in the wild.
Image: Anopheles stephensi – a primary mosquito vector of malaria.