FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2016

Infection identified in mosquitoes could help control malaria transmission

A study published in the online journal Nature Communications on June 6 showed the first evidence of an intercellular bacterial infection in natural populations of two species of Anopheles mosquitoes, the major transmitters of malaria in Africa.

Researchers collected Anopheles mosquitoes from villages in Burkina Faso, West Africa, to analyze their reproductive tracts.

The scientists were not looking for Wolbachia, an infection shown to reduce pathogen infections in mosquitoes, but they found a novel strain of the infection, which they named wAnga.

The Wolbachia infection induces a reproductive phenomenon in insects called cytoplasm incompatibility. The infection spreads rapidly and infects 66 percent of arthropod species.

The new findings suggest that the infection could be used to control malaria-transmitting mosquito populations.

"Wolbachia is an interesting bacterium that seems perfectly suited for mosquito control," Flaminia Catteruccia, an associate professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Perugia, Italy, said. "However, there were strong doubts that it could ever be used against field Anopheles populations. We were thrilled when we identified infections in natural mosquito populations, as we knew this finding could generate novel opportunities for stopping the spread of malaria."

Researchers are looking to see if the wAnga strain shares properties with other Wolbachia strains.

"If successful, exploiting Wolbachia infections in malaria mosquitoes could reduce the burden of the disease globally," Elena Levashina, a co-author of the study from the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, Berlin, said.