Scientists have finally found the Achilles heel of malaria, a neurotoxin that is not harmful to any living being, except for Anopheles mosquitoes that spread malaria.
Almost half of the world's population lives in areas susceptible to malaria. Every year about 450,000 people die, most of them children and pregnant women. The progress in combating the disease is under threat as Anopheles develops a resistance to chemical insecticides to combat it. The toxic side effects of the chemicals are also worrying.
About 30 years ago scientists identified a bacterial strain that kills Anopheles. Since the attack method of the bacterium was not understood, it could not be replicated or used as an alternative to chemical insecticides.
An international team led by Sarjeet Gill, Professor of Molecular, Cell and Systems Biology at UC Riverside, has identified a neurotoxin produced by the bacteria and discovered how it kills Anopheles. Their work is described in detail in an article published today in Nature Communications .
It took Gill and his team 1
"Identifying the mechanisms by which the bacteria attack Anopheles has not been easy," Gill said. "We were thrilled not only to find the neurotoxin known as PMP1, but also several proteins that are likely to protect PMP1 as it is absorbed into the intestine of the mosquito."
Many neurotoxins generally target vertebrates, and PMP1 has a chemical similarity of 30 percent with botulinum or tetanus, both highly toxic to humans. Because the neurotoxin has no effect on humans, vertebrates, fish or even other insects, Gill believes that the bacteria that produce PMP1 are likely to have developed along with Anopheles mosquitoes.
"It was surprising to us that PMP1 is not toxic even by injection into mice," Gill said.
Gill members include postdoctoral researchers Estefania Contreras, Jianwu Chen, Harpal Dhillon and Nadia Qureshi, as well as alumni The students Swati Chawla from UC Riverside, Geoffrey Masuyer and Pål Stenmark from the University of Stockholm and Han Lim Lee from the Institute of Medical Research in Malaysia. Her work was funded by the US National Institutes of Health.
The team has filed a patent for this discovery and now hopes to find partners to help them develop their bacterial-derived insecticide Anopheles. These results also open up new opportunities for exploring more environmentally friendly insecticides.
"If PMP1 kills the Anopheles mosquito, there are likely to be other toxins that can kill other disease-causing pests." Gill said. "This could be the beginning of a new way to prevent hundreds of thousands from getting sick and dying each year."
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Estefania Contreras et al., A Neurotoxin Specific Against Anopheles Mosquitoes, Nature Communications (2019). DOI: 10.1038 / s41467-019-10732-w
Fighting deadly malaria without chemicals (2019, 28 June)
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