Sunday, October 4, 2009

Popcorn parasite

Who would have thought that infecting "mosquitoes with a bacterial parasite could help prevent the spread" of blood parasites like malaria and lymphatic filariasis? If you guessed that it might, then you are either clever or very well-informed. For the rest of us, it is an exciting idea that may aid in "the control of...mosquito-borne parasites" (Wellcome).

Researchers have infected mosquitoes with a strain of Wolbachia, which is a bacterial parasite that infects insects and other arthropod species (Werren). The strain known as wMelPop, and nicknamed 'popcorn', can halve the lifespan of infected mosquitoes. "Mosquito-borne parasites such as the filarial nematode or the malaria parasite require an incubation period between ingestion and transmission, so only older mosquitoes" are "infective. Skewing the mosquito population towards younger individuals reduces the number of infectious insects." In the case of lymphatic filariasis, a parasitic worm that is transmitted by mosquitoes, wMelPop has also been shown to encourage "the mosquito's immune system to attack" the parasite that it hosts (Wellcome).

The 'Popcorn' strain may reduce the number of mosquitoes and the likelihood that they will transmit a parasite that is deadly to humans. Researchers are "currently looking at whether infecting other species of mosquito, such as Anopheles gambiae - the mosquito responsible for the majority of malaria infections - with wMelPop will have a similar effect and help inhibit malaria transmission as well as filariasis transmission."


Kambris Z et al. Immune activation by life-shortening Wolbachia and reduced filarial competence in mosquitoes. Science 2009.

Wellcome Trust (2009, October 2). Parasite Bacteria May Help Fight Spread Of Mosquito-borne Diseases. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 4, 2009, from­ /releases/2009/10/091001163601.htm

Werren, J.H.; Guo, L; Windsor, D. W. (1995). "Distribution of Wolbachia in neotropical arthropods". Proc. R. Soc. London Ser. B 262: 147–204.

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