A team of nine researchers based in the United States and Burkina Faso will receive the 2019 Newcomb Cleveland Prize, presented by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, for the development of a promising tool in the global fight against malaria and other diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, including dengue and Zika.
Each year since 1923, the Newcomb Cleveland Prize has honored the most impactful research paper published in the journal Science. In this year’s winning paper, the authors described how they engineered a fungus to infect mosquitoes that had grown immune to insecticides, inducing rapid population collapse in a simulated village setting.
Every two minutes, a child dies of malaria. In 2018, the World Health Organization reported 228 million cases of malaria and more than 400,000 deaths from the disease worldwide, with 93% of cases and 94% of deaths occurring in Africa. Burkina Faso, a country of just under 20 million people, recorded nearly 8 million cases that year.
These grim figures, however, represent a significant improvement. Since 2010, malaria cases and deaths have decreased by 18% and 28% respectively, largely due to DDT, pyrethroids and other insecticides being applied to bed nets and living spaces. With mosquito populations increasingly developing resistance to insecticides, though, vulnerable communities are in urgent need of new approaches.
A team led by 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, developed one such method. By genetically engineering a naturally occurring fungal pathogen to produce a toxin derived from spider venom, they were able to deliver a lethal blow to mosquitoes.