Can entomopathogenic fungi be used to produce a cheap organic pesticide for sustainable malaria control?
Malaria control has been successfully achieved with insecticides directed against blood-fed mosquitoes resting on house walls. However, the evolution of insecticide resistance in the mosquitoes, and concerns about the environmental consequences of sustained use of chemicals, make standard approaches unsustainable. We hope to develop an approach which overcomes both these problems.
This involves entomopathogenic fungi. These are contact-transmitted pathogens. The vision is to spray them on house walls and other surfaces. They kill mosquitoes resistant to chemical insecticides; even before the mosquito is dead, it loses interest in blood feeding and becomes incapable of transmitting malaria. How fast the fungi act can be adjusted by appropriate choice of dose and strain. This means we can control the strength of selection they impose for resistance to themselves. We think of this as smart malaria control. This is a technology which can provide very effective evolution-proof disease control.
Further reading: (1) a slightly dated scientific overview, (2) journalism for Alumni, and (3) journalism for biologists. The latter does a good job of showing that the main resistance challenge is resistance from scientists stuck in a chemical paradigm.