Battling Malaria

For the longest time, humans have been trying to eradicate mosquitos. These annoying little bloodsuckers are a huge nuisance, can sometimes drive people mad with the constant buzzing in the ears and, more importantly, with their extremely annoying and itchy bites. But observed objectively, the mosquito is a delicate insect. Unfortunately for people in Africa, this delicate insect can also be rather deadly when it carries the parasitic organisms that spread malaria. Each year battles are fought for more than 400,000 lives in order to save them from death caused by malaria.

Scientists are hard at work to find a cure, and recently they stumbled upon a strain of bacteria called Serratia. This strain has shown the ability to completely block the malaria virus from passing through the host organism. An added benefit is that these Serratia bacteria spread through mosquito populations easily.

The Serratia can be found in two places within a mosquito. One of those places is the gut, while the other is located in both of the reproductive organs in male and female mosquitos. So the easiest way for it to spread among mosquitos is during mating. Additionally, this bacterium spreads further to the eggs that the female mosquito lays. The bacteria also spread in the water where the eggs are placed. From there, it can even spread to eggs that had been untouched previously. Not many organisms on Earth can spread like this. The Serratia, once inside the mosquito, blocks off the multiplication of the malaria parasite, but other than that there is no detrimental effect on the mosquito.

Scientists from John Hopkins used more than 30,000 mosquitoes for various tests. During testing, more than a few researchers had been bitten by a mosquito, but luckily for them, the mosquitoes carrying malaria were kept under stricter terms than the regular ones. During the studies, the scientists used blood from various sources. Usually, they were from expired donations, but some were even from willing participants. They fed the mosquitoes with infected and clean blood.

One of the earliest studies regarding this matter was centered on E. coli. Scientists attempted to tamper with the genetic structure of E. coli and force it to produce proteins that can then block off the malaria parasite’s ability to grow and reproduce. But E. coli proved a poor choice since it is not compatible with mosquitoes. Serratia was discovered by accident during a routine dissection of mosquito’s ovaries. It was at this moment that the scientists realized they found something really important. Before the discovery of Serratia, scientists did not have much luck in finding organisms that can be transmitted vertically.

The current focus of these studies is centered solely on mosquitoes and malaria, but these finding clearly show us that there are other diseases that can be battled this way. The current focus is on curing malaria, and as soon as that is perfected, scientists may focus on other kinds of diseases.

As for the malaria studies, the scientists are currently working on the possibility of releasing infected mosquitoes into a controlled environment. This test is supposed to imitate the real-life situation in Zambia. This needs to be done in order for the scientists to fully understand how this bacteria function when in contact with other bacteria. If all that goes according to plan, scientists can then, and only then, think about letting these mosquitoes into the wild. This also needs to be approved by the government. Scientists do not want to risk releasing new strands of bacteria into the wild, before knowing exactly how those bacteria can affect humans and other wildlife.

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