Combating malaria with spider venom – a poisonous duel

Date:4 June 2019 Author: Sam Spiller Tags:, , , , , , , , , , ,

The Australian Blue Mountain funnel web spider might just be frightening enough to eradicate malaria. New research results suggest fighting fire with fire as a possible solution to the deadly disease.

Due to decreasing levels of funding and a building resistance to insecticide-based chemicals, malaria is on the rise. The mozzie – what was once nothing more than an annoying buzz has mutilated into a deathly hum.

According to the World Health Organization, the global death toll from the disease is estimated to be 435,000 people. In 2017, the total number of reported cases was 219 million (up two million from the previous year). This dramatic increase is startling, especially when taking into account it’s treatable and preventable nature.

Fortunately, recent innovations could contribute to the affordability and success rate of treatment. A new study conducted in Burkina Faso has found that a special type of fungus, when combined with spider venom, could result in a high eradication percentage of an exposed mosquito population.

The work was put forward by researchers from the University of Maryland and the Research Institute of Health Sciences in the West African country. Experiments were conducted in a controlled environment, the “MosquitoSphere”, where a fungus known as Metarhizium Pingshaense was combined with a gene harvested from the venom of the Australian Blue Mountain funnel web spider.

When exposed to the fungus, more than 90% of the mosquito population was killed. While the fungus is naturally fatal to the dreaded mozzie, the scientists reported that deaths occurred much quicker than when they were exposed to the non-modified fungus. It was also discovered that the concoction remained toxic only to mosquitoes and not to other beneficial insects such as honeybees – a massive discovery in terms of the protection of a radically declining pollinator population.

The most beneficial aspect of this approach and methodology is it’s cost-effective nature. Combining modified fungus with cloth and locally-sourced sesame oil could produce a cheap means of prevention. The brains behind the operation are also hoping that it can be introduced into other methods of prevention once properly registered and tested further.

Not only are these findings scientifically impressive and exciting, but synonymously provide hope for a greater African population whose battles with malaria seem never-ending. This injection of light into a dull battle with disease is, perhaps, even more valuable than the research results themselves.

Images: Pixabay

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