News / Health

Malaria Fix May Rely on Engineered Bacteria

Genetically engineered bacteria glow fluorescent green inside mosquito. (Credit: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health)Genetically engineered bacteria glow fluorescent green inside mosquito. (Credit: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health)
x
Genetically engineered bacteria glow fluorescent green inside mosquito. (Credit: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health)
Genetically engineered bacteria glow fluorescent green inside mosquito. (Credit: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health)
In the battle against malaria, doctors may one day have a microscopic ally.

New research suggests that genetically modifying a bacterium commonly found in the gut of mosquitoes that harbor the malaria-causing parasite can make the mosquitos less likely to carry the disease.

If scientists can find a way to spread these bacteria in the wild, they could help end malaria’s deadly reign in the tropics
 
Malaria kills approximately one million people every year, mostly African children under the age of 5. 
 
Molecular biologist Marcelo Jacobs-Lorena, said, "It’s a very serious problem. It’s one of the three deadliest infectious diseases." 
 
And, he said, it’s one that is very hard to control.
 
"We have just drugs that kill the parasite in humans and we have insecticides that kill the mosquito vector. And the parasite rather quickly acquires resistance to drugs and the mosquitoes are acquiring resistance to insecticides. So the situation doesn’t get better," he said. 
 
Jacobs-Lorena is part of a team at Johns Hopkins and Duquesne Universities that is exploring an entirely new way to fight malaria. He says the key to success is choosing the right battleground. In this case, that battleground is inside the mosquito.
 
"Typically a mosquito ingests a couple thousand parasites. Then the parasite changes into a form called “ookinetes” that has to cross the midgut. Of the couple of thousand parasites that were ingested, only a few - about 5 or so-reach that stage where they cross the midgut. As you see, there’s a very strong bottleneck of parasite numbers in the midgut. That’s why it’s such a good target," he said. 
 
To take aim at the malaria parasites, Jacobs-Lorena and his colleagues gave weapons, of a sort, to bacteria that often live in a mosquito’s digestive system.
 
"So what we did is genetically engineer the bacteria to produce several antimalarial compounds, (and we) fed them to the mosquitoes," he said. 
 
When the newly-armed bacteria reached the mosquitoes’ midguts, they thrived. And Jacobs-Lorena says that they excelled in their new role as anti-parasite fighters.  "In the laboratory, it works extremely well. Up to 98% of the parasites killed. So it is quite efficient," he said. 
 
Jacobs-Lorena says it’s unlikely the malaria parasite will learn to fight back. "Rather than using one antimalarial compound, we engineered the bacteria with several different antimalarials, with each antimalarial acting at a different point in the development of the parasite in the midgut. By having multiple points of attack, that makes it much more difficult for the parasite to develop resistance," he said. 
 
The team’s next hurdle is making sure mosquitoes can pass on “armed” bacteria to their offspring. 
 
"We are changing to another bacteria that is also found in mosquitoes all over the world. It has the interesting property of being able to populate the ovaries of the mosquito. Every time the mother lays an egg, the egg is covered by this bacteria. So it goes into the water with the egg. And when the larva hatches, it ingests that bacterium. So it goes from the mother to progeny. In that way it can spread itself in nature," said Jacobs-Lorena. 
 
But even if the team can engineer inheritable armed bacteria, they face a larger challenge: public opinion.
 
"I can understand very well the concerns of lay people of having genetically engineered organisms released. My personal view is that those concerns are mostly based on the fear of the unknown rather than actual dangers. The antimalarial compounds I referred to are extremely specific. They don’t act, or do any harm to the mosquito. They don’t do any harm to mammalian cells or human cells. They don’t even affect the other bacteria that live in the same community. And in the long run, if the benefits largely outweigh any possible risks, then I think we should go ahead. And here, I think the benefit is saving lives," he said. 
 
Marcelo Jacobs-Lorena’s study is published this week in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
 

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: yan from: china
July 19, 2012 9:45 PM
maybe,it is a better way to fight against malaria.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festivali
X
April 24, 2015 4:09 AM
Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Keeping Washington Airspace Safe Is Tall Order

Being the home of all three branches of the U.S. federal government makes Washington, D.C. the prime target for those who want to make their messages and ideas heard. Unfortunately, many of them choose to deliver them in unorthodox ways, including from the air, as a recent incident clearly showed involving a gyrocopter landing on the Capitol’s West Lawn. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.

VOA Blogs