Scientists from the University of California, Riverside have discovered that a new type of insecticide removes malaria-spreading mosquitoes safely. Unlike common insecticides, this new technology is comprised of a neurotoxin (PMP1) that is toxic to the Anopheles but has no effect on humans or any other living organism. The development of this insecticide is a leap forward for the scientific community, as it has the potential to drastically reduce the number of individuals—roughly 220 million—who contract malaria each year.
Impact of Malaria
Malaria is one of the world’s deadliest diseases. Scientists estimate that malaria kills over 425,000 individuals per year, mainly those living in South America, Africa, and South Asia. Children and pregnant women are at the greatest risk for malaria transmission because pregnancy decreases immunity and children have not yet developed partial immunity. However, cases occur in individuals of all ages and gender. One of the most common and effective solutions for malaria prevention is to provide individuals with bed nets to prevent mosquito bites during sleep. The most foolproof method is the treatment of bed nets with an insecticide that kills mosquitoes on contact. Past insecticides have shown some negative side effects such as rashes, blisters and itching. The new proposed insecticide removes malaria-spreading mosquitoes with PMP1 and has no side effects, making it a safe way to protect individuals from the Anopheles mosquito.
Finding and Isolating the Bacteria
While the development of the PMP1 insecticide is a relatively new innovation, scientists have long understood the ability of the Paraclostridium Bifermentans bacteria to subdue the Anopheles mosquito. However, they have been unable to understand the protein that enables this protection in the past. Sarjeet Gill, professor of molecular, systems, and cell biology at the University of California, Riverside, led a research team to study this effect. The team placed the bacteria under radiation, creating several strains of Paraclostridium Bifermentans that could not produce PMP1. They compared these radiated nontoxic strains to the non-radiated toxic strains, which helped them identify PMP1, the protein in the toxic strains that is lethal to the Anopheles. They plan to use PMP1 to produce the insecticide.
The team has applied to patent their new discovery and are looking for partners to help them develop and manufacture the new insecticide for use in countries with high malaria risk. The insecticide has immense promise with no negative side effects, and because it is plant-based, not synthetic chemical-based. This means that it is highly unlikely that the Anopheles will develop a resistance to the insecticide.
Conclusion & Impact on the Global Poor
The new insecticide laced with PMP1 has the potential to drastically improve living conditions for those at risk of malaria transmission. Malaria affects millions of individuals living in poverty every year, as many of these individuals do not have access to proper insecticide-treated bed nets. However, the when new insecticide removes malaria-spreading mosquitoes, it should provide an easy and affordable way to ensure that individuals living in poverty will be protected without negative side effects and with a very minimal chance of the Anopheles mosquito developing resistance. The insecticide is an extremely promising innovation, one that has the potential to end the spread of malaria.
– Kiran Matthias