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Symbiotic Bacteria Halt Malaria Life Cycle in Mosquitoes

Allowing mosquitos to feed on engineered strains of the symbiotic bacteria that naturally live in their midguts may provide the answer to preventing the malarial parasite Plasmodium from completing the relevant stages of its life cycle in the airborne host and being transmitted to humans, researchers claim. A team at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Malaria Research Institute has generated engineered strains of a common symbiotic bacterium Pantoea agglomerans that resides in the midgut of the anopheles mosquito. The bacterium is modified to secrete proteins that directly block development and survival of the Plasmodial ookinetes and oocysts developing in the midgut, which would normally give rise to the sporozoites that are transmitted into humans through the mosquito’s saliva.

Marcelo Jacobs-Lorenam Ph.D., Sibao Wantg, Ph.D., and colleagues found that anopheles mosquitoes given these modified P. agglomerans bacteria and subsequently allowed to feed on blood meals containing either P. falciparum or P. beghei, developed up to 98% fewer plasmodial oocysts. The authors report their findings in PNAS in a paper titled “Fighting malaria with engineered symbiotic bacteria from vector mosquitoes.”

Human Plasmodium parasites have a complex life cycle that needs both the anopheles mosquito and human hosts for completion. In theory, blocking one part of the parasite’s life cycle in the mosquito should prevent the transmission of viable parasite to humans. Previous work has attempted to engineer the mosquito hosts such that they secrete antiplasmodium factors that inhibit development of the parasitic ookinetes and oocysts in the midgut. However, the prospect of getting transgenes into wild mosquito populations is proving particularly challenging.

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