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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 November 2005, 01:30 GMT
Fungi 'new tool' against malaria
By Ania Lichtarowicz
BBC World Service health reporter in Yaounde, Cameroon

Mosquitoes are unlikely to develop resistance to the fungi, say scientists
Fungi native to East Africa could be used as a new tool in the fight against malaria, recent studies suggest.

An international team of scientists from the Netherlands, Tanzania and the UK say their technique could significantly reduce malaria cases.

Their research has been presented at the Fourth pan-African Malaria Conference in Yaounde, Cameroon.

When fungi infect certain insects, including malaria-carrying mosquitoes, they grow and quickly kill the animal.

'Future industry'

New studies show that a specific type of fungus native to East Africa can infect mosquitoes and reduce their lifespan by two-thirds - to just seven days.

Professor Willem Takken from Wageningn University in the Netherlands said the fungus also stops live mosquitoes from transmitting the malaria parasite to humans.

"The minute a mosquito becomes infected it basically stops its blood-feeding behaviour," he said.

"It seems as if it is no longer hungry. It will still take some water or any other juice but no longer blood.

"And secondly we find that mosquitoes that are infected with the fungus can no longer bring the malaria parasite to development."

Studies carried out in Tanzania, where the researchers covered 20% of surfaces where mosquitoes rest with fungus-covered cotton sheets, led to a drop in malaria transmission of 76%.

They are so confident about their work that they believe the fungus technique could lead to small-scale industry in towns across Africa, where the spores could be grown on sorghum and rice flour.

They calculate that within four years this method could even replace insecticide-treated bed nets as a way of controlling mosquitoes.

The scientists also believe that unlike with insecticides, where as many as 80% of mosquitoes are no longer killed by the compounds, the insects are unlikely to develop resistance to the fungus as it targets many different genes in the parasite.

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