Scientists have discovered a type of bacteria which could help tackle malaria.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says in 2020 half the world’s population was at risk of malaria with most deaths in sub-Saharan Africa.
But researchers working at a laboratory in Tres Cantos in Madrid found that when a particular strain of bacteria is consumed by mosquitoes it lowers the amount of infection carried by the insect and cuts the risk of transmitting malaria.
David Barros-Aguirre is Head of Tres Cantos Laboratory, GSK.
“So, the bacteria gets inside the gut of the mosquito. Even if one single bacteria will go there it stays there like the microbiome, it stays in the gut of the mosquito, reproduces in the gut of the mosquito and that bacteria produces a metabolite, a compound, naturally by itself that is called harmane and it is the harmane, the compound, that affects the viability of the eggs of the parasite.”
The mosquito does not sense an attack from the bacteria which means it is less likely to become resistant and the bacteria does not genetically modify the mosquito itself.
“What happens is that the bacteria colonises the gut of the mosquito, but doesn’t modify its DNA, doesn’t modify the ability of the mosquito to grow, doesn’t affect the ability of the mosquito to live as any other mosquito, not even in the reproduction so there are no changes at all affecting the life, the span, the spread of the mosquito,” says Barros-Aguirre.
Pharmaceutical giant GSK has nicknamed the bacteria 'TC1' after the laboratory in which it triggered so much interest.
It will never lead to a complete solution to malaria but it is being seen as another tool in the armour against the disease.
“Because it doesn’t affect the mosquito’s viability, it won’t create a resistance.
"It’s not the same like an insecticide. Insecticides kill the mosquito and therefore they try not to be killed and escape that distress. Because this doesn’t distress them they won’t try to resist it.”
Globally researchers are continuing to investigate ways of controlling malaria.
GSK is now collaborating with Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, USA, to develop this bacteria for use against the disease however this is likely to take many years.