The microbe completely protects mosquitoes from being infected with malaria and could be a “big breakthrough” in helping to control the disease.
The malaria-blocking bug, Microsporidia MB, was discovered in mosquitoes on the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya and lives in the gut and genitals of the insects.
The joint team in Kenya and the UK, who discovered the microbe, are investigating whether they can release infected mosquitoes into the wild, or use spores to suppress the disease.
Infected mosquitoes spread malaria to humans so any control over the number of the insects with the disease can help save lives.
The researchers did not find a single mosquito carrying the Microsporidia that was harbouring the malaria parasite.
Lab experiments, published in Nature Communications, confirmed the microbe gave the mosquitoes protection.
Microsporidias are fungi, or at least closely related to them, and most are parasites.
The new species, was naturally found in around 5% of the insects studied.
Dr Jeremy Herren, from the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) in Kenya told the BBC: “The data we have so far suggests it is 100% blockage, it’s a very severe blockage of malaria.
“It will come as a quite a surprise. I think people will find that a real big breakthrough.”
The World Health Organisation estimates malaria kills more than 400,000 people worldwide each year.
The use of bed nets and spraying homes with insecticide have had a positive impact, but in recent years this method has stalled.
The microbe can be passed between adult mosquitoes and is also passed from the female to her offspring.
Two new methods are being considered: the mass release of spores of the microbe in areas where many mosquitoes live, or implanting the microbe in male mosquitoes (who don’t bite) in the lab, who would then spread it to female mosquitoes, who spread the disease through their bites.
Researchers believe at least 40% of mosquitoes in a region would need to be infected with Microsporidia in order to make a significant dent in malaria.
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