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Malaria and the Inner Armies

On ERV, Abbie Smith writes “Malaria kills 1.24 million people a year. Mostly babies under 5 years old.” Malaria, although carried by mosquitoes, is caused by a single-celled protist which infects the liver and goes on to parasitize red blood cells. Now, a little genetic engineering could put a stop to this scourge. Smith says “Mosquitoes have a symbiotic relationship with their bacteria the same way we do—they need their ‘good’ bacteria to get all the nutrients they need to survive.” By tweaking the protein output of one such bacteria, scientists have made mosquito guts inhospitable to malaria. The test result? An 84% decrease in the number of mosquitoes carrying malaria, and a 98% reduction in malarial replication among carriers. Of course, mosquitoes aren’t the only animals that support friendly bacteria—and researchers at the Weizmann Institute are discovering that our friendly bacteria support a number of viruses. They identified hundreds of different bacteriophages “thanks to the fact that bacteria keep ‘files’ within their genome of every virus that has ever tried to attack them.” Some of these phages may confer benefits to our internal ecosystem. And humanity has 80% of them in common.

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