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A Look Back at 2020 AAAS Award Winners: Malaria-Fighting Technology Named Most Impactful Study

A research team based in the U.S. and Burkina Faso received last year’s Newcomb Cleveland Prize. | Neil Orman/AAAS

Since 2010, the global number of deaths from malaria has decreased by 28%, largely due to the application of DDT, pyrethroids, and other insecticides to bed nets and living spaces. Still, a child dies of malaria every two minutes, and with mosquito populations becoming increasingly resistant to insecticides, vulnerable communities are in urgent need of new solutions.

Each year since 1923, the Newcomb Cleveland Prize, presented by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, has honored the most impactful research paper published in the journal Science. Last February, the prize went to an international team of scientists for the development of a promising tool in the fight against malaria and other diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, including dengue and Zika.

Brian Lovett, then a Ph.D. candidate in the University of Maryland’s entomology department, and Etienne Bilgo, a postdoctoral fellow in biomedical sciences at the Institut de Recherche en Sciences de la Santé/Centre Muraz in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, led the nine-person research team. As part of their prize-winning study, they genetically engineered a naturally occurring fungal pathogen to produce a toxin derived from spider venom.

In the researchers’ MosquitoSphere, a screen-enclosed experimental environment near a rural village in Burkina Faso, the toxin killed roughly 75% of insecticide-resistant mosquitoes and caused an established population to collapse within 45 days. The results from the MosquitoSphere, which the team built to mimic the natural environment — with appropriate vegetation, breeding sites, and blood sources for mosquitoes — are an important step toward epidemiological field studies of the technology.

“The study is one of extraordinary scope and creativity,” Holden Thorp, editor-in-chief of Science and chair of the Newcomb Cleveland Prize Selection Committee, said last year.

This year’s Newcomb Cleveland Prize will go to the authors of a paper published in the Research Articles or Reports sections of Science between June 2019 and May 2020. The winning researchers will receive the prize during the 187th AAAS Annual Meeting, to take place virtually Feb. 8-11. Register for the meeting today.