Science

Might medicated nets eliminate malaria in mosquitos?

Netting covered with atovaquone, or similar medications, could halt the development of malaria-causing parasites within mosquitos
Netting covered with atovaquone, or similar medications, could halt the development of malaria-causing parasites within mosquitos
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Netting covered with atovaquone, or similar medications, could halt the development of malaria-causing parasites within mosquitos
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Netting covered with atovaquone, or similar medications, could halt the development of malaria-causing parasites within mosquitos

Although killing mosquitos is certainly one way of keeping them from spreading malaria, the pests can unfortunately develop a resistance to insecticides. Scientists from Harvard University are therefore looking at another approach, in which live mosquitos are made malaria-free simply by landing on a treated surface.

Atovaquone is a chemical that's already used in medications to treat and prevent malaria in humans. In lab-based experiments, Harvard researchers coated glass surfaces with that chemical, covered the glass with an inverted plastic cup, and then placed female Anopheles mosquitos inside of that cup. Immediately before or after sticking the insects in there, the scientists infected them with Plasmodium falciparum, which is the parasite that causes malaria.

Over the course of the study, the mosquitos were trapped in the cup for different amounts of time, and the glass was coated with differing concentrations of atovaquone. Inevitably, the insects ended up landing on the glass, absorbing the chemical through their legs. Ultimately, it was found that when they stood on relatively low concentrations of atovaquone for just six minutes, it was sufficient to eliminate all of the parasites within their bodies.

The insects typically light on mosquito netting around beds for at least six minutes at a time, so it is now hoped that by treating such nets with the chemical (or others similar to it), mosquito populations in given areas could gradually be made malaria-free.

It should also be noted that the atovaquone exposure did not alter the insects' lifespans or ability to reproduce. This could actually be welcome news to many people, who worry that simply killing off large numbers of mosquitos may adversely affect the ecological food chain.

"Mosquitoes are amazingly resilient organisms that have developed resistance against every insecticide that has been used to kill them. By eliminating malaria parasites within the mosquito rather than killing the mosquito itself, we can circumvent this resistance and effectively prevent malaria transmission," says Prof. Flaminia Catteruccia. "Ultimately, the use of antimalarials on mosquito nets could help eliminate this devastating disease. It's a simple but innovative idea that's safe for people who use mosquito nets and friendly to the environment."

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Nature.

Source: Harvard University

3 comments
Nik
Rather than just relying on treating the nets, if the whole house was treated, especially underneath beds, where the little blighters like to hide, then it wouldn't matter where they landed, even if it was for less than the prescribed 6 minutes, they would eventually collect enough of the treatment to nullify the parasite. Seems like an ideal solution, as nothing else has been effective, long term, yet.
fb36
IMHO, mosquitoes can develop resistance against any kind of chemical(s), over time, & also, malaria can do the same!!! Also, mosquitoes are carriers of many diseases, not just malaria!!! Today, there is genetic tech developed which can be used to completely eradicate all mosquitoes from everywhere on Earth!!! IMHO, that is the ultimate & ONLY real (permanent) solution, against all diseases carried by mosquitoes!!! IMHO, mosquitoes have no essential function in nature!!! Their harm to humans & animals vastly exceeds any benefit they maybe providing (like being fish food?)!!! IMHO, our world would be, definitely/absolutely, would be a better place w/o mosquitoes!!!
Brian M
@FB36 If you total remove a species - then the outcome is never certain. Nature abhors a void, so something else might well take its place, and that something could be even worse!
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