London, May 10 (IANS) Researchers from the Michigan State University in the US have found that a strain of bacteria called Wolbachia bacterium can infect mosquitoes and make them resistant to the malaria parasite.
The study, published in the journal Science, said the parasite struggled to survive in infected mosquitoes, BBC reported.
Experts hoped that giving mosquitoes malaria immunity could reduce human cases.
The World Health Organization estimates that 220 million people are infected annually and 660,000 die due to malaria.
The study looked at the Wolbachia bacterium, which commonly infects insects.
It passes only from females to their offspring. In some insects, the bacteria is exceptionally good at manipulating insects to boost the number of females for its own ends.
Wolbachia kills male embryos in some butterflies and ladybirds. In other situations, it can produce males that can breed only with infected females, and even allows some female wasps to give birth without mating.
Malaria-carrying Anopheles mosquitoes are not naturally plagued by Wolbachia, but laboratory studies have shown that temporary infection made the insects immune to the malaria parasite.
BBC said the challenge was to turn a temporary infection into one that would be passed on.
The research team found a strain of Wolbachia that could persist in one species of mosquito, Anopheles stephensi, for the entire length of the study – 34 generations.
Malaria parasites found it difficult to cope in these mosquitoes, with parasite levels fourfold lower than in uninfected bugs.
Meanwhile, another research in Australia has shown that a different strain of Wolbachia can prevent the spread of dengue fever by mosquitoes.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the US, said this study was a proof of concept that the same could be done for malaria.
“If you can get it to survive and proliferate in the environment of mosquitoes in malaria-stricken areas, this could conceivably have an important impact on the control of malaria,” he said.