Diverse novel Wolbachia strains could lead to the reduction in the transmission of malaria

The discovery of novel Wolbachia bacteria strains in Anopheles malaria vectors could lead to the reduction in the transmission of malaria, according to a study published in Wellcome Open Research, Wellcome’s open research publishing platform.

Wolbachia, a common insect bacterium that can influence pathogen transmission and manipulate host reproduction, has historically been considered absent from the Anopheles (An.) genera, but has recently been found in An. gambiae s.l. populations in West Africa.

Since there are numerous Anopheles species that have the capacity to transmit malaria, the study analysed a range of species across five malaria endemic countries to determine Wolbachia prevalence rates, characterise novel Wolbachia strains and determine any correlation between the presence of Plasmodium, Wolbachia and the competing bacterium Asaia.

The research, funded by Wellcome and Royal Society, found novel Wolbachia strains in five species, increasing the number of Anopheles species known to be naturally infected. Variable prevalence rates in different locations were observed and novel strains were phylogenetically diverse, clustering with Wolbachia supergroup B strains.

Principle investigator and lead author of the study Thomas Walker of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said of the findings:

“This important discovery provides greater insight into the prevalence of resident Wolbachia strains in diverse malaria vectors. Novel Wolbachia strains (particularly high-density strains) are ideal candidate strains for transinfection to create stable infections in other Anopheles mosquito species, which could be used for population replacement or suppression control strategies.”

“Further studies are needed to determine if these strains are impacting malaria transmission in field settings. Previous studies in other Sub-Saharan African countries have shown even low density Wolbachia strains in Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes have significant effects on the infectious sporozoite stages of malaria parasites.”

The promising results follow the latest findings from the Annual World Malaria Report which reported that the number of cases of malaria in 10 of the countries worst affected by the disease has gone up over the last year, despite a huge global effort to tackle the mosquito-borne disease.

In response to the findings, Professor Scott O'Neill, Director, World Mosquito Program said:

“This work adds considerably to the growing appreciation that Wolbachia naturally infects anopheline mosquito species. However the low frequency of these infections in the An. gambiae complex is an intriguing puzzle and suggests that these infections are not behaving like Wolbachia in most other insects. A fuller understanding of these unusual infections will allow us to determine how best they might be used in future disease control programs.”

The research aims to follow the lead from successful preliminary trials undertaken by the World Mosquito Program. Here, Wolbachia-infected Ae. aegypti mosquitoes were generated, by Dr Walker in earlier work, and released into wild mosquito populations in dengue endemic countries, preventing the replication of arboviruses such as dengue and Zika virus.



Leanne Elliott

Head of Communications


E: leanne.elliott@f1000.com

T: +44 (0)7865 090018

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Press release distributed by Pressat on behalf of F1000Research, on Wednesday 19 December, 2018. For more information subscribe and follow https://pressat.co.uk/

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Diverse novel Wolbachia strains could lead to the reduction in the transmission of malaria