Mosquito gut becomes a potential ground for fighting malaria

A recent study carried on by U.S. researchers suggests that genetically modified bacteria could fight malaria from inside the mosquitoes. The symbiotic bacteria that reside in the gut of the mosquito known as Pantoea agglomerans can be genetically modified to secrete “anti malaria effector molecules” that are toxic to the malarial parasite. The researchers already knew that the most vulnerable stage of development of Plasmodium – the mosquito parasite that causes malaria, occurs in the lumen of the mid gut in the mosquito and these parasites live along with these symbiotic bacteria. Modification of these symbiotic bacteria does not result in any harm to humans or mosquitoes.

The study was carried on by the senior author Marcelo Jacobs-Lorena, a professor with John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore – Maryland. Previously, Marcelo Jacobs- Lorena produced mosquitoes that generated their own antimalarial peptides also known as Malaria-Resistant Mosquitoes in a work that appeared in Nature.

However, this approach has been found difficult to be implemented in field even though it seemed promising in the lab. Now Jacobs and his team had taken a different approach. Instead of manipulating mosquitoes directly, they have focused on the bacteria that live symbiotically in the mosquito gut and modified them to produce compounds that interfere with the parasites development. The next step involves testing this approach in a real world environment. Researchers are still finding ways to figure out how they may introduce genetically engineered bacteria in the field.

One option is to leave clay pots containing sugar and bacteria laden cotton balls in various locations around the mosquito infected areas where these mosquitoes can feed on them. But to carry on this activity or approach, Jacobs-Lorena and his team has to convince and take permission from the local authorities. The engineered bacteria do not appear as a threat to human and animal population. It is estimated that every year about 800,000 people die of malaria and most of them are children.

Since 2000, the global malarial deaths had reduced by more than 26% as eight African countries have managed to cut on the incidences of malaria by more than fifty percent and about twenty five countries are on the path of eliminating malaria. The work carried on by the Jacobs-Lorena group can be said to be a dramatic one that found ways to control malaria one step ahead by eliminating the malarial infection within the mosquito itself.

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