Bacteria found by chance may become biggest weapon against malaria

This bacterium was observed to halt the growth of malaria parasites within the mosquito's gut, thereby curbing transmission.

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An Aedes aegypti mosquito at a laboratory, in Tokyo, Japan, July 14, 2018. —AFP
An Aedes aegypti mosquito at a laboratory, in Tokyo, Japan, July 14, 2018. —AFP 

A naturally occurring strain of bacteria that was discovered by microbiologists rather accidentally has the potential to impede the transmission of malaria from mosquitoes to humans, BBC reported Friday. 

Researchers chanced upon this breakthrough when a group of mosquitoes in an experiment unexpectedly remained free of the malaria parasite. 

This discovery, if harnessed, could provide a novel tool in combating one of humanity's oldest diseases, which claims around 600,000 lives annually.

Scientists at a Spanish research facility, overseen by GSK pharmaceutical company, stumbled upon this phenomenon during mosquito experimentation related to drug development. 

Upon closer inspection, they identified a specific strain of bacteria, labelled TC1, naturally present in the environment. 

This bacterium was observed to halt the growth of malaria parasites within the mosquito's gut, thereby curbing transmission.

Further investigation revealed that TC1 endures throughout a mosquito's lifespan, significantly reducing its parasite load by as much as 73%. 

The bacteria functions by emitting a molecule called Harmane, which impedes the early stages of malaria parasite development in the mosquito. 

Harmane can either be consumed orally by the mosquito if mixed with sugar or absorbed through its cuticle upon contact.

Collaborating with Johns Hopkins University, the GSK team is exploring the possibility of using harmane on surfaces where mosquitoes rest, expanding its potential impact. 

Currently, trials are underway at the MosquitoSphere research facility in Burkina Faso to assess the scalability and safety of Harmane's real-world implementation.

Malaria claims the lives of approximately 620,000 people each year, primarily affecting children under five. Although vaccines are in development, they are still in the early stages of deployment in Africa. 

Gareth Jenkins of Malaria No More expressed optimism about this discovery, highlighting the need for innovative tools to eradicate the persistent threat of malaria and envisioning the possibility of ending malaria's menace within our lifetimes.