How a spider venom toxin could tackle malaria

Scientists are conducting an experiment to test whether a a toxin found in spider venom can provide a breakthrough in the worldwide fight against malaria.

 UNITED STATES (REUTERS) - "Losing a child was really painful for me, or for any parent for that matter. So if we can find a solution against this disease which killed my child, other people we will thank god. They should do everything to eradicate this disease."

For men like Dramane Oeudraogo, a cure for malaria cannot come soon enough.

Now scientists are hoping a fungus which is genetically-engineered to produce a toxin found in spider venom can provide a breakthrough in treating the deadly disease.

"We took a gene from a spider and we put that spider gene which encodes an insect-selective toxin, we put that gene into the fungus," said Raymond St. Leger, co-author of study and distinguished university professor in the department of entomology at the University of Maryland.

The project is the brainchild of entomologists at the University of Maryland.

Inspired by a call from the World Health Organisation for a scientific solution to the rapid evolution of insecticide-resistant mosquitoes.

After successful lab trials, the team created simulated village in Burkina Faso, dubbed the 'Mosquito Sphere'.

"We grow this fungus and we use this fungus to impregnate the cloth. Then we take the mosquitoes and put them in contact with this cloth, which contains the fungus and then these mosquitoes will absorb the spores, the spores will germinate and then start to kill the mosquitoes. So we discovered that it will even kill the mosquitoes that are hyper-resistant to all the pesticides we use today," said Dr Abdoulaye Diabate, head of the medical entomology laboratory of the Institut De Recherche En Science De La Sante in Burkina Faso.

 

And researchers reported dramatic results.

"Well basically within two generations we've killed 99 percent of the mosquitoes. So it caused the mosquito population to collapse," said Raymond St. Leger.

The WHO estimates 435,000 people died of malaria in 2017.

Scientists hope that by using the fungus in conjunction with insecticides, they can prevent mosquitoes from developing resistance.

That could also be used to combat other illnesses including Zika and Dengue.