In the October 4 issue of Science, the researchers report that they have discovered genes in naturally occurring populations of the mosquito, Anopheles gambiae, that enable the insects to resist infection by the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, which is deadly when transmitted to humans though an insect bite. The finding potentially opens new avenues to preventing malaria, one of the world's greatest scourges.
"The new genes we have found are the first ones that make the Anopheles mosquito highly resistant to real, natural populations of the most deadly of the human malaria parasites, as opposed to laboratory parasite strains, and there are several ways that this basic research finding could help prevent malaria transmission," says Kenneth Vernick, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Medical and Molecular Parasitology, who led the research.
Although it is too soon to know whether the research will result in new treatments or prevention strategies, Dr. Vernick says it may be possible to spread the parasite-blocking genes among mosquito populations, and thereby deny the parasite enough mosquitoes to sustain itself in nature. The genes might also produce a parasite-killing compound that could be developed into a drug for human use, he speculates.
Malaria is transmitted from person to person through the bite of female mosquitoes in the genus Anopheles, which carry malaria parasites. In order to sustain itself, the parasite must undergo a part of its lifecycle inside of the mosquito.
Dr. Vernick says that the genes that were found appear to have a large effect on the parasite's growth. In one case, mosquitoes with two copies of a parasite-blocking gene had an average of 0.2 parasites per mosquito, while insects wit
Contact: Pam McDonnell
New York University Medical Center and School of Medicine