The discovery has "enormous potential" to control the disease, say researchers
Researchers have discovered a microbe — a very small living organism— in mosquitoes that completely protects them from being infected with malaria.
The team in Kenya and the UK say the finding has "enormous potential" to control the disease, reports the BBC.
Malaria is spread by the bite of infected mosquitoes, so protecting them could in turn protect people.
Researchers are now investigating whether they can release infected mosquitoes into the wild, or use spores to suppress the disease.
Jeremy Herren, lead researcher at the International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), said that mosquitoes carry a microbe that does not harbor malaria parasites.
"Research showed that the microbe is passed from female mosquitoes to their offspring at high rates, and does not kill or cause obvious harm to the mosquito host," Herren said in a statement to journalists in Nairobi.
He said that the microbe that has been named as Microsporidia MB, was found in Anopheles mosquitoes.
It was discovered by studying mosquitoes on the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya. It lives in the gut and genitals of the insects.
The researchers could not find a single mosquito carrying the Microsporidia that was harbouring the malaria parasite. And lab experiments, published in Nature Communications, confirmed the microbe gave the mosquitoes protection.
"The data we have so far suggest it is 100% blockage, it's a very severe blockage of malaria," Herren, told the BBC.
He added: "It will come as a quite a surprise. I think people will find that a real big breakthrough."
At the very least, 40% of mosquitoes in a region need to be infected with Microsporidia in order to make a significant dent in malaria, says the BBC.
"It's a new discovery. We are very excited by its potential for malaria control. It has enormous potential," Prof Steven Sinkins, from the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, told the BBC.
This concept of disease control using microbes is not unprecedented. A type of bacteria called Wolbachia has been shown to make it harder for mosquitoes to spread dengue fever in real-world trials.
More than 400,000 people are killed by malaria each year, most of them children under the age of five.