Scientists have stumbled upon a naturally occurring strain of bacteria that possesses the potential to disrupt the transmission of malaria from mosquitoes to humans. This serendipitous discovery came about when a group of mosquitoes in an experiment failed to develop the malaria parasite. The implications of this finding are immense, as it could herald a groundbreaking approach in the battle against one of the planet’s oldest afflictions, responsible for claiming the lives of 600,000 individuals each year.
The research, conducted at a facility in Spain operated by the pharmaceutical company GSK, revealed that the mosquitoes in question ceased to carry the malaria parasite. This observation prompted further investigation, leading to the identification of a specific strain of bacteria labelled TC1. Remarkably, TC1, which occurs naturally in the environment, was found to impede the growth of malaria parasites within the mosquitoes’ digestive systems for the entirety of their lifespans.
Additional studies demonstrated that this bacteria-driven intervention could reduce a mosquito’s parasite load by a striking 73%. The mechanism behind this remarkable phenomenon involves the bacteria’s secretion of a molecule known as harmane. Harmane effectively hampers the initial stages of malaria parasite development in the mosquito’s gut. Moreover, a collaborative effort between GSK scientists and Johns Hopkins University revealed that harmane can be introduced into mosquitoes either orally, by combining it with sugar, or through cuticular absorption upon contact.
To validate the practicality and safety of this intervention on a larger scale, trials are presently underway at a controlled field research facility called MosquitoSphere in Burkina Faso.
If successful, this bacterial intervention could emerge as a potent tool in the fight against malaria, a disease that disproportionately affects children under five years old and claims approximately 620,000 lives annually. While vaccines are under development and deployment, this new bacterial discovery holds the promise of further advancing malaria eradication efforts.
Gareth Jenkins, representing the organisation Malaria No More, expressed optimism regarding this breakthrough. He emphasised that, despite progress in reducing malaria’s global impact, innovative tools are crucial to regaining momentum in the campaign against the disease. With a robust pipeline of innovations, there is a tangible possibility of eliminating the threat of malaria within our lifetimes.