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Malaria breakthrough

Posted by Richard on July 18, 2012

If this pans out, it could be the most important breakthrough in the fight against malaria since the introduction of DDT, saving literally millions of lives:

Researchers report they have found a way to kill malaria in mosquitoes by genetically modifying a bacterium commonly found in the insect’s mid-gut, according to a new study.

The bacterium, called Pantoea agglomerans, can be modified to secrete proteins that are toxic to the malaria parasite, but are not harmful to humans or the mosquito itself.  In fact, the bacterium is so specific to targeting malaria that it does not even affect other bacteria in the mosquito’s gut, according to the researchers from Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute, who conducted the study.

Of course, it will be bitterly opposed by the same luddite environmentalists who got DDT banned 40 years ago — and thus sentenced tens of millions of inhabitants of tropical regions (mostly Africans) to death.

There are some 300 to 500 million reported cases of malaria each year, 90% occurring in Africa. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about two and a half million people die of the disease each year, again, mostly in Africa, the majority of them poor children. Indeed, malaria is the second leading cause of death in Africa (after AIDS) and the number one killer of children there (with about one child being lost to malaria every thirty seconds). Many medical historians believe malaria has killed more people than any other disease in history, including the Black Plague, and may have contributed to the collapse of the Roman Empire. Malaria was common in places as far north as Boston and England until the twentieth century. Two thirds of the world lived in malaria-ridden areas prior to the 1940s.

That devastation all but stopped during the time that DDT use was widespread, around 1950-1970. Indeed, the discovery that DDT could kill malarial mosquitoes earned Dr. Paul Müller the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1948. DDT, a chemical pesticide synthesized by Müller in the late 1930s, was initially used against houseflies, beetles, various farm pests, and typhus-carrying lice on the bodies of World War II soldiers and civilians. America and England soon became the major producers of the chemical, using it to fight malaria-carrying mosquitoes, especially in tropical regions.

In all, DDT has been conservatively credited with saving some 100 million lives.

… In what is now Sri Lanka, malaria cases went from 2,800,000 in 1948, before the introduction of DDT, down to 17 in 1964 — then, tragically, back up to 2,500,000 by 1969, five years after DDT use was discontinued there.

Read the whole thing.

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One Response to “Malaria breakthrough”

  1. Sandy said

    With regard DDT. You might want to read up on it. Like asbestos its use while not immediately noticeable was extremely negative to human and animal life and hence the ‘luddite environmentalists’ were probably right. Don’t let this stop you altering DNA though as I’m sure that will be fine.

    You got that from Fox news. Seriously.

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