Biology

How the malaria parasite "hails a cab" to reach more victims

Mosquitos feeding the lab at Stockholm University
Mosquitos feeding the lab at Stockholm University
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Mosquitos feeding the lab at Stockholm University
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Mosquitos feeding the lab at Stockholm University
The researchers involved in the study: Noushin Emami, Ingrid Faye and Bo G Lindberg from Stockholm University
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The researchers involved in the study: Noushin Emami, Ingrid Faye and Bo G Lindberg from Stockholm University

The battle against malaria is taking place on many fronts. We've seen solar powered traps; efforts to genetically engineer mosquitoes to make them immune to the disease-causing parasites; methods of making mosquitos infertile; and, of course, insecticides and vaccines. But the issue with those last two is that the malaria parasites and mosquitoes that carry them can evolve to develop resistance to the chemicals meant to kill them or ward off the disease. New research from Stockholm University, however, might now give the world another method of trying to beat back the disease that still caused about 429,000 deaths in 2015.

The researchers discovered that the mosquitos that spread malaria prefer feeding on people who are infected with the disease. They believe the reason is due to a molecule produced by the malaria parasite known as HMBPP, which it uses to grow. When that molecule comes in contact with red blood cells in the human body, it causes them to release "more carbon dioxide and volatile compounds with an irresistible smell to malaria mosquitoes," says Ingrid Faye at Stockholm University.

In short, an infected person becomes like pizza fresh from the oven to a mosquito, which is why changing the way we smell might someday be a way to combat them.

What's more, the researchers found that when mosquitos latch on to a malaria-infected host, they drink more, which leads them to suck up more malaria parasites, which in turn gives them a more severe – and transmissible – infection.

"HMBPP is a way for the malaria parasite to hail a cab, a mosquito, and successfully transfer to the next host," SU's Noushin Emami explains.

The researchers involved in the study: Noushin Emami, Ingrid Faye and Bo G Lindberg from Stockholm University
The researchers involved in the study: Noushin Emami, Ingrid Faye and Bo G Lindberg from Stockholm University

"This seems to be a well-functioning system, developed over millions of years, which means that the malaria parasite can survive and spread to more people without killing the hosts," adds Faye, referring to the fact that an overabundance of parasites in a human body would kill it. But by figuring out how to get mosquitos to take more parasites onboard, the parasite has developed a tricky hitchhiking system that still accomplishes its goal of increasing its population.

Now that the researchers have uncovered this mechanism, they say it might be useful as a way to kill disease-causing mosquitoes. If a device could be made that gives off the same odor that HMBPP causes, malaria mosquitoes could be lured to it, trapped and killed, which would eliminate the need to spray poisonous insecticides.

The research has been published in the journal Science.

Source: Stockholm University

6 comments
Chizzy
time to make mosquitos extinct. crispr propagation techniques to only produce males. relatively cheap, and unlikely to truly kill every mosquito everywhere, but close enough to be effective.
watersworm
Brutal DTT ban was a crime against humanity !
TheAnalyst
The best way to curtail mosquito population is using Soap bubbles or soap foam. This is the best non-chemical and dirt cheap way to kill mosquitoes in thousands. Little physics is at works for the benefit. Whenever wings of mosquitoes comes in contact with soap bubble or soap foam, due the surface tension of soap liquid, in a fraction of second their wings get stuck into the soap liquid of the bubble/foam. It makes them motionless and later they cannot get rid of the soap liquid and hence die. How to make mosquitoes get in contact with soap bubbles. Simple way is to use industrial grade tiny soap bubble maker and flush it at mosquito infested site or flush the site with soap foam. Hordes of mosquitoes will come in contact with the soap bubbles leading to killing of thousands of mosquitoes in short span of time. It is a Simply Weapon of Mass Mosquito Destruction (WMMD). It is the cheapest, most environment friendly and globally available material to kill mosquitoes. We do not need much research and budget to prove this as it simply works with soap bubbles or soap foam.
MattII
For those that say about killing mosquitos, we have no idea of the long-term effects of that action on the local food-chain, it could have significant knock-on effects for the whole local ecosystem.
TheAnalyst
Concerns of ecosystem are right when we have exact knowledge of their role in ecosystem. What will happen when they eradicated from ecosystem where they are not part of it, is unknown. Our immediate concerns should be loss of human life. First curtail that loss of human life while at the same time continue researching their role in the ecosystem. We are using machines to catch fish in the oceans and seas where nobody thinks of harm to ecosystem because there trade is involved. Here we come up with ecosystem arguments because it is epidemic in third world countries.
Nik
A lot of wild life feed on mosquitoes, so mass killing of them is ecologically bad. After the revolution, the Chinese decided to massacre all the 'decadent' cats and dogs. They were then overrun with rats and mice. In the UK, farmers got greedy, and decided to eliminate centuries old hedgerows, to increase growing areas, and profits. The birds that used to inhabit the hedgerows were displaced, and the farmers then had to spend thousands on insecticides to kill the insects that the birds had previously eaten. The malaria eradication efforts should concentrate on eliminating malaria, in the same way that smallpox was eliminated, with a vaccine. This will cause the least disturbance to the ecosystem.
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