About 30 years ago, scientists have found a strain of bacteria that can kill Anopheles mosquitoes, which are mosquitoes that spread malaria. However, back then the bacteria was not understood, and “it couldn't be replicated or used as an alternative to chemical insecticides”. But now it can be.
An international team led by Sarjeet Gill, distinguished professor of molecular, cell and systems biology at UC Riverside, has identified a neurotoxin produced by the bacteria, and determined how it kills Anopheles. Their work is detailed in a paper published today in Nature Communications.
It took Gill and his team 10 years to achieve a breakthrough in their quest to understand the bacteria, and Gill attributes the success to modern gene sequencing techniques. They hit the bacteria with radiation, creating mutant bacterial strains that could not produce the toxin. By comparing the nontoxic strain to the one that kills Anopheles, they found proteins in the bacteria that are the keys to toxin production.
The neurotoxin does not affect humans, vertebrates, fish, and other insects, making it a safer alternative than using chemical insecticides.
Nearly half the world's population lives in areas vulnerable to malaria which kills roughly 450,000 people per year, most of them children and pregnant women. Progress fighting the disease is threatened as Anopheles develop resistance to chemical insecticides used to control them. There is also great concern about toxic side effects of the chemicals.
(Image Credit: Jim Gathany/CDC)