Researchers, Jacobs-Lorena et al., at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have altered a harmless bacteria (Pantoea agglomerans) naturally found in the midgut of mosquitos to fight malaria by producing and releasing proteins that are toxic to malaria but harmless to mosquitos or humans. Since the gut is where the malaria parasite reproduces, this is the optimal location to put an end to it. The engineered bacteria were indeed successful at reducing the number of malaria oocysts by 98% in mosquitos with the bacteria compared to untreated mosquitos. In addition, less than 20% of mosquitos with engineered bacteria contracted malaria after drinking contaminated blood.
Prior research has focused on altering the genetics of mosquitos in an effort to stop the spread of malaria. This new technique will offer many of the same challenges: how to get the engineered bacteria to the mosquitos in the wild since the anti-malarial bacteria may be less fit compared to unmodified bacteria.