Malaria affects 1 in 12 humans, or 500 million people. Carried by the mosquito, it is one of the most widespread and dangerous insect spread diseases in the world. Now scientists say they have developed a new solution to the disease, which prevents the mosquito from carrying the disease.
The new strategy is to infect mosquitoes with a genetically engineered bacteria. This releases proteins that puncture a hole in the membrane of the developing malaria parasite which kills it. These proteins are deadly to the malaria parasite but harmless to mosquitoes and humans. The bacteria is an altered form of Pantoea agglomerans which is present in the gut of the Anopheles gambiae mosquito, the most prevalent malaria carrying mosquito in Africa.
The bacteria also has a second way of preventing the spread of malaria in that it binds to a protein called plasminogen that the parasite needs from the host mosquito. The parasite needs this protein to be able to migrate out of the gut of the mosquito; by binding to the protein, the bacteria blocks access to the plasminogen and the parasite is trapped.
A report from the National Academy of Sciences showed the modified bacteria prevented the development of the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum by up to 98 percent within the mosquito. This is known to be the most deadly type of malaria.
Professor Marcelo Jacobs-Lorena, of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Healthin Baltimore, Maryland, said: “In the past, we worked to genetically modify the mosquito to resist malaria, but genetic modification of bacteria is a simpler approach. The ultimate goal is to completely prevent the mosquito from spreading the malaria parasite to people.”
Are GM bacteria tested enough to be safe?
While this is a welcome treatment in the fight against malaria, a question has to be asked as to the safety of genetically modifying bacteria this way. Bacteria mutate and create new strains readily, especially in commonly transferred infections. By modifying this bacteria this way, there is no guarantee that the bacteria will remain safe and effective; also, there is nothing to stop the parasite from developing a survival strategy that could make the parasite more problematic. This is possible as two percent of the malaria parasites survive, and therefore, will go on to produce more of the resistant type of the parasite.
The scientists say that they should be able to release this bacteria soon to rid the world of malaria; however, there should be rigorous testing done before we embark down the route of using this bacterial unknown.
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