Why malaria-spreading mosquitoes are so hard to kill – and how scientists found a way to kill them without impacting the environment or other living creatures.
Almost half of the people in the world live in an area where malaria parasites can infect and kill them. Malaria parasites enter the body via a mosquito. The parasites travel to the liver where they it can remain undetected for as long as a year. While in the liver, malaria parasites develop and release toxic substances that infect red blood cells. These toxins are dumped into the bloodstream and distributed throughout the body. This is when symptoms begin to show. Symptoms of someone infected with malaria include fever, chills, headache, vomiting, sweating, cough, and chest, stomach, and muscle pain. Often these symptoms appear in waves or “attacks” that come and go.
Fighting the mosquitoes that transfer malaria to humans has been difficult. Mosquitoes have developed resistance to the chemical insecticides that are used to control them. But even the chemicals used to kill mosquitoes were bad for humans. Now scientists have found a way to kill mosquitoes without harming people or the environment.
For a long time, scientists knew of bacteria that killed mosquitoes, but they did not understand why the bacteria made mosquitoes die. This year, scientists in California found the answer. The found the mosquito-killing bacterial produces a neurotoxin (a poison that acts on the nervous system) that is fatal to mosquitoes. The scientists worked for more than a decade to figure this out.
The neurotoxin was named PMP1. It is similar to botulinum or tetanus, both very dangerous to humans. But PMP1 does not affect humans, fish, insects, or mammals. This means PMP1 can be used to control mosquitoes without impacting the environment and hurting other animals. According to scientists:
“This could just be the start of a new way to prevent hundreds of thousands from getting sick and dying every year.”