Mosquito microbe puts a stop to malaria

Female killers: Only female mosquitoes bite humans. They use the blood to produce their eggs. © Alamy

Have we cured malaria? Scientists have announced a ground-breaking discovery that stops malaria at its source. It could help to destroy one of the world’s most deadly diseases forever.

What’s happening

For many of us, a mosquito bite is an irritating fact of life. For others, it is terrifying. Mosquitoes spread malaria through their bites, making them the deadliest animals known to man. Now, scientists say a microbe could save millions of human lives by protecting the insects from the disease.

Find out more

We have found many ways to fight malaria in the past. Mosquito nets and bug sprays prevent lethal bites. Scientists have developed drugs to block the disease. They have even used killer fungi to attack infected mosquitoes. So far, no approach has been perfect. Nets break, insects build up immunities to sprays and medication, and killing them upsets ecosystems.

Finally, a group of researchers in Kenya can celebrate a breakthrough. They have discovered a microbe that grows naturally in some mosquitoes and stops them contracting malaria. The team hopes that introducing it into wild mosquitoes could stop the disease spreading to humans. Crucially, the microbe does not harm the insects which makes it a sustainable solution.

Have we cured malaria?

Some say…

It looks like it. Experiments so far have shown that the microbe blocks 100% of malaria. This means we have found a way of cutting off the disease at its source. The microbe is natural to some mosquitoes. As a result, it won’t kill them off as previous techniques have done. It is a long-term method of prevention that will save millions of lives.

Others think…

Not yet. We have not found a cure for the disease, but we could hugely reduce the number of people who catch it. Scientists estimate that 40% of mosquitoes need to carry the malaria-blocking germ for humans to be safe from the disease. The challenge now is to find a way to release mosquitos carrying the newly discovered microbe into the wild.

You Decide

  1. Is it a good idea for scientists to interfere with nature to cure human diseases?

Activities

  1. Design a poster with words and pictures to describe the different ways for controlling the spread of malaria.

Some People Say...

“We can eradicate malaria within a generation.”

Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and malaria activist

What do you think?

Word Watch

Malaria
A fever that affects the red blood cells. It is very common in parts of Asia and Africa.
Microbe
An extremely small living thing which requires a microscope to see it. The microbe that blocks malaria grows in the gut of a mosquito.
Killer fungi
One previous method for stopping malaria was a fungus that targeted mosquitoes.
Ecosystems
A biological community. When mosquitoes are killed, it can affect larger animals that rely on them for food.
Sustainable
Conserving an ecological balance. The microbe does not upset natural systems by killing mosquitoes.

Subjects

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