Professor Steven Sinkins, Professor at the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research (CVR), has been awarded almost £3m to continue his pioneering mosquito symbiont work by Open Philanthropy.

Made up of two separate grants, the funding will enable Professor Sinkins and his team in Glasgow to conduct potentially life-saving research into the naturally occurring malaria transmission-blocking microbe, Microsporidia MB, discovered recently in wild populations of Anopheles mosquitoes in Kenya. It will also, via the ANTI-VeC Network, support research groups in Sub-Saharan Africa to carry out surveys on this microsporidian, giving a much better picture of its distribution.

Malaria kills around 400,000 people each year and imposes a huge burden on Africa. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently stressed the need to continue the efforts against malaria, despite the necessary focus on COVID-19, and said deaths from malaria could rise significantly across sub-Saharan Africa if work to prevent the disease is disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak.

Early this year Dr Jeremy Herren, Professor Sinkins and colleagues published a paper reporting the discovery of Microsporidia MB in Nature Communications. In that work, by studying malaria mosquitoes in their natural environments, mainly at icipe’s Thomas Odhiambo Campus on the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya, the research team found that mosquitos carrying Microsporidia MB did not harbour malaria parasites in nature, or in experimental infections in the lab. The researchers also showed that Microsporidia MB is passed from female mosquitoes to their offspring at high rates, and does not kill or cause obvious harm to the mosquito.

Professor Sinkins said:  “I am delighted that Open Philanthropy has generously awarded us this major funding. We hope to build on our research using Wolbachia symbionts to control dengue virus to help develop comparable approaches for malaria control. Microsporidia MB is a very promising new tool.”