Using bacteria to battle malaria as possible drug treatment

Posted Feb 19, 2015 by Tim Sandle
A newly discovered family of bacteria, found in malaria-carrying mosquitoes, could hold the key to fighting the parasitic disease.
The Aedes aegypti - or yellow fever - mosquito
The Aedes aegypti - or yellow fever - mosquito
The discovery of the new bacterial family is a major event in itself. This is the only the second discovery of a new branch in the past 50 years. The family has been named Thorselliaceae and the specific bacteria have been placed into a new genus called Thorsellia. Both of these are named after a university professor. The new family of bacteria was isolated from the gits of a Kenyan malaria mosquito. Since the discovery, other representatives of the genus Thorsellia have been detected in mosquitoes from Africa, India, Iran and Brazil. This prevalence indicates that Thorsellia has probably been associated with disease-carrying mosquitoes for thousands of years.
The implications of the discovery are wider than simple taxonomy: the new family could provide the key to fighting malaria. The bacteria seem to have a role with mosquito-larvae survival.
Based on this potential connection, researchers are now looking at strategies of paratransgenesis. That is, they are looking into methods to prevent the transmission of malaria parasites by altering the genetic basis of these bacteria.
Initial studies have shown that the bacteria grow more quickly when the mosquito has taken a blood meal. If the bacteria can be genetically altered, they could be used to produce substances that stop malaria parasite development.
Malaria is caused by a single-celled parasite belonging to genus Plasmodium. The parasite is transmitted by mosquitoes in territories in over 100 countries and presents a risk to about 3.3 billion people
The research was a collaborative effort between scientists from Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala University in Sweden, Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen, Germany, and the Veterinärmedizinische Universität, Austria. The findings have been published in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology, with the research headed “Proposal of Thorsellia kenyensis sp. nov. and Thorsellia kandunguensis sp. nov., isolated from larvae of Anopheles arabiensis, as members of the family Thorselliaceae fam. nov.”
In related news, scientists have recently reassured global populations that other forms of malaria, which might, for instance, infect primates, pose little threat to humans and thus there is a little risk of different malaria parasites making the species jump.