EAST LANSING, Mich., May 10 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers say they've identified a strain of bacteria that can infect mosquitoes and make them resistant to the malaria parasite.
Since malaria is spread among people by the insects it is believed giving mosquitoes immunity to the parasites could reduce human cases of the disease that infects 220 million people worldwide each year, they said.
Scientists at Michigan State University examined Wolbachia bacterium, which commonly infects insects.
Anopheles mosquitoes that can carry the malaria parasite are not naturally plagued by Wolbachia, they said, but studies have demonstrated temporary infection made the insects immune to the parasite.
In an effort to make the temporary infection a permanent one, the researchers identified a particular strain of the bacteria that would persist through multiple generations of on species of the mosquitoes, Anopheles stephensi.
Anopheles stephensi carries malaria in the Middle East and South Asia; Anopheles gambiae, in Africa, presents a bigger problem, the scientists said.
"We have done only one strain," researcher Zhiyong Xi told the BBC. "If we target Anopheles gambiae we would need to apply the same technique again."