Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have identified a fungus that compromises the immune system of mosquitoes, making them more susceptible to infection with the parasite that causes malaria.
Because environmental microorganisms can vary greatly from region to region, the researchers say the findings may help explain variations in the prevalence of malaria in different geographic areas.
Mosquitoes, like humans, are continuously exposed to a variety of microbes in their environment, and these bacteria and fungi can influence the health of mosquitoes in many ways. Malaria researchers have in the past identified microbes that block the Anopheles mosquito from being infected by the parasite that causes malaria, but this is the first time they have found a microorganism that instead appears to make the mosquito more likely to become infected with – and then spread – malaria. The findings are published September 28 in the journal Scientific Reports.
“This very common, naturally occurring fungus may have a significant impact on malaria transmission: It doesn’t kill the mosquitoes, it doesn’t make them sick, it just makes them more likely to become infected and thereby to spread the disease,” says the study’s leader Dr. George Dimopoulos, a professor in the department of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Bloomberg School and a deputy director of its Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute. “While this fungus is unlikely to be helpful as part of a malaria control strategy, our finding significantly advances our knowledge of the different factors that influence the transmission of malaria.”