Experts said this was a first, distant prospect for malaria control.
Malaria is a major global disease. The World Health Organization estimates that 220 million people are infected annually and 660,000 die.
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.
Research in Australia has shown that a different strain of Wolbachia can prevent the spread of dengue fever by mosquitoes. That research is more advanced and has been shown to work in large trials in the wild.
He said the infected females produced fewer eggs than uninfected females, which meant the infection would struggle to spread in the real world.
Also he cautioned that it was in just one species, Anopheles stephensi, which carries malaria in the Middle East and South Asia. Anopheles gambiae, in Africa, is a bigger problem.
One of the researchers, Dr Zhiyong Xi, told the BBC: “We have done only one strain. If we target Anopheles gambiae we would need to apply the same technique again.”
ABSTRACT – Wolbachia is a maternally transmitted symbiotic bacterium of insects that has been proposed as a potential agent for the control of insect-transmitted diseases. One of the major limitations preventing the development of Wolbachia for malaria control has been the inability to establish inherited infections of Wolbachia in anopheline mosquitoes. Here, we report the establishment of a stable Wolbachia infection in an important malaria vector, Anopheles stephensi. In A. stephensi, Wolbachia strain wAlbB displays both perfect maternal transmission and the ability to induce high levels of cytoplasmic incompatibility. Seeding of naturally uninfected A. stephensi populations with infected females repeatedly resulted in Wolbachia invasion of laboratory mosquito populations. Furthermore, wAlbB conferred resistance in the mosquito to the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum.
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