🗞 Magic mushroom? A natural way to stop malaria

A dramatic discovery offers hope against the disease – and is even good for mosquitoes!

Have you heard of malaria? You almost certainly would if you live in Africa. But it’s a disease that’s much less common elsewhere.

In Africa, it makes millions of people sick every year, especially children. More people die of malaria than the new corona virus that’s gone round the world lately.

So it is particularly good news for Africans that scientists in Africa have discovered what might be a new way to stop malaria being spread by mosquitoes – those little flying insects that bite you in the night.

Micro mushroom

What’s more, their solution is very natural and doesn’t hurt the mosquitoes. It involves a tiny fungus – basically a micro-mushroom.

Mosquitoes bite people to drink their blood. It’s a nasty habit and can give us itchy spots. But in Africa, some mosquitoes carry the malaria bug. And when they bite people, the malaria gets into a person’s body.

A mosquito, having a snack…
“Magic” mushroom

This is where the newly found fungus, our “magic mushroom” comes in.

All creatures, ourselves included, carry around all sorts of microbes and tiny bugs. Most do no harm and many are even good for us.

Mosquitoes are no different. They also carry around microbes. We call these parasites. The malaria bug is one of these. Another is our mushroom.

“Quite a surprise”

Jeremy Herren led the research team in Kenya in east Africa. They found that if a mosquito has this fungus – which they called Microsporidia MB – then it never carries the malaria bug.

Jeremy told the BBC:

“It will come as a quite a surprise. I think people will find that a real big breakthrough.”

Jeremy Herren, the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe)
Next steps

This kind of research is just a first part of the effort. The scientists now have to find ways to get this fungus into more mosquitoes.

Good news like this reminds us of the amazing things scientists are doing to fight diseases – including the corona virus, COVID-19.

There are all sorts of other ways of fighting malaria. People have found ways of poisoning and killing mosquitoes. There are drugs people can take to stop becoming ill.

Winning against malaria

In the last 20 years, we have cut in half the number of people who get ill every year, partly through a very simple solution – nets around beds that stop mosquitoes landing on people in the night.

But we still need more ways to fight malaria.

Mosquito-friendly

Jeremy’s fungus could be especially good because it doesn’t do the mosquitoes any harm.

Other solutions against malaria involve killing mosquitoes or harming them in other ways.

And that’s not good for birds, bats, fish and other creatures which live by eating mosquitoes.

Steven Sinkins, a professor at Glasgow University in Scotland, was also part of the team. He said:

“We are very excited.”

Problem?

Over 200 million people get ill with malaria every year. Most are in Africa, where the disease is spread by mosquitoes.

African biologist

Solution!

Scientists found a fungus that stops mosquitoes carrying malaria. They are looking for ways to get the fungus into more mosquitoes!

Grown-ups’ follow-up

The research was published in Nature Communications.

The BBC spoke to the researchers.

The United Nations issued its annual Malaria Report in December.

Our World in Data has a fascinating page on malaria.

Take a look at this video from the WHO, which remains topical:

Alastair editor of WoW!

Reporting by

Alastair

alastair@wow-news.eu

Production by

Agathe

agathe@wow-news.eu

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