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Adv Parasitol. 2009;68:315-27. doi: 10.1016/S0065-308X(08)00612-X.

Microsporidians as evolution-proof agents of malaria control?

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  • 1Division of Biology, Imperial College London, United Kingdom.


Despite our efforts at malaria control, malaria remains one of our most serious and deadly diseases. The failure of control stems in part from the parasite's intense transmission in many areas and from the emergence and spread of resistance of the malaria parasites and their mosquito vectors against most of the chemicals used to attack them. New methods for control are desperately needed. However, new methods will be useful only if they are effective (i.e., decrease transmission substantially) and evolutionarily sustainable (i.e., evolution-proof, in that they prevent evolution from eroding efficacy). We suggest microsporidian parasites that infect mosquitoes could be potentially effective and sustainable agents for malaria control. They may be effective because they target several epidemiologically important traits: survival of larvae (and thus number of adult mosquitoes), adult longevity, biting rate and the development of malaria within the mosquitoes. Even if each trait is affected only moderately, the intensity of transmission can be reduced considerably. They may be evolution-proof, for the evolutionarily most important trait is juvenile survival, whereas the two epidemiologically most important factors are traits of the adult mosquito: biting rate and longevity. Under the intense microsporidian pressure of a control programme, it is likely (if not inevitable) that the larvae evolve to survive microsporidian infection. However, if this larval tolerance to microsporidians is genetically correlated with the adult traits, tolerant mosquitoes may not live as long and bite less frequently than microsporidian-sensitive ones. While such a trade-off has not been measured, combining several studies suggests indirectly a negative genetic correlation between larval tolerance and adult longevity. Therefore, evolution might not undermine control; rather it might increase its effectiveness. While the evolution of resistance may be inevitable, the failure of control need not be.

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