Malaria can now be controlled without chemicals harmful to humans

U.S. National Institutes of Health

Team of scientists has discovered a neurotoxin which attacks the precise predator for malaria, without causing any side effects to humans. The team led by Sarjeet Gill, a professor of cell, molecular, and systems biology at UC Riverside has developed the neurotoxin from bacteria which can kill Anopheles.

According to the report, Gill and his team were working on the project for ten years to understand the working of the bacteria. Roughly thirty years ago, scientists had already identified a bacteria that kills Anopheles. However, experts had then not understood the method of attack, nor had they produced an alternative to chemical insecticides.

Gill credits the modern sequencing technology to the team’s final success. It is through this method that the bacteria is hit with radiation, which creates mutant bacterial strains that produce the toxin. The scientists compared the nontoxic strain to the one that kills the Anopheles. Through this they found proteins in bacteria, which is a key to toxin production.

“Identifying the mechanisms by which the bacteria targets Anopheles has not been easy,” commented Gill on the latest discovery. “We were excited not only to find the neurotoxin, called PMP1 but also several proteins that likely protect PMP1 as it’s being absorbed in the mosquito’s gut.”

Anopheles are resistant to chemical insecticides, which are usually used in order to control their power. Moreover, the side effects of toxic chemicals on humans is grave. Neurotoxins are known to target vertebrates, and PMP1 30 has chemicals resembling tetanus or botulinum, both are toxic to humans.

According to Gill, neurotoxin does not affect humans, fish, vertebrates and even insects. Gill observes that the bacteria which produced PMP1 is likely to co-evolve with Anopheles mosquitoes. “It was surprising for us that PMP1 is not toxic to mice even by injection,” Gill reports.

Funded by U.S. National Institutes of Health, the research work is published in Nature Communications. Furthermore, the team has applied for a patent on the discovery and helps to develop bacteria-based Anopheles insecticide in collaboration with partners. This paves way for studying research prospects for environmental friendly insecticides.

“There is a high likelihood that if PMP1 evolved to kill the Anopheles mosquito, there are other toxins that can kill other disease-spreading pests,” according to Gill. “This could just be the start of a new way to prevent hundreds of thousands from getting sick and dying every year.”