New mosquito virus could help control malaria

August 25th, 2008 - 11:31 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, Aug 25 (IANS) Researchers have identified a previously unknown virus that infects the Anopheles mosquito that is primarily responsible for transmitting malaria.The virus could be potentially used to pass on new genetic information to Anopheles gambiae (AG) mosquitoes as part of a strategy to control malaria, which claims one million lives worldwide every year.

The virus, AgDNV, is a densonucleosis virus or “densovirus,” which are common to mosquitoes and other insects, but do not infect vertebrate animals such as humans.

Although harmless to mosquitoes, researchers determined the virus is highly infectious to mosquito larvae and is easily passed on to the adults.

According to Jason Rasgon, assistant professor of Bloomberg School of Public Health and co-author of the study, the discovery came about while experiments were being conducted to determine whether Wolbachia bacteria could be used to infect AG mosquito cells.

During the analysis, Xiaoxia Ren, a postdoctoral fellow with Bloomberg, noticed an “artefact” that appeared as a prominent band in the gel used to detect the bacteria.

“Finding artefacts such as this one during experiments is not uncommon, but we decided to investigate this one further since we kept observing it over and over. When we sequenced it we were surprised to learn that we had found a new virus,” explained Rasgon.

According to Rasgon, the virus could be potentially altered to kill the mosquito or make it incapable of transmitting malaria. “In theory, we could use this virus to produce a lethal toxin in the mosquito or instruct the mosquito to die after 10 days, which is before it can transmit the malaria parasite to humans. However, these concepts are many years away,” he said.

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