Two Penn State researchers have been chosen to receive a grant through the Grand Challenges Explorations program, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Johanna Ohm, graduate student in biology, and Matt Thomas, professor and Huck Scholar in Ecological Entomology, will develop an insect-based artificial diet for adult Aedes/Anopheles mosquitoes as a viable alternative to mammalian blood meals.
Malaria parasites in vaccinated laboratory mice evolve and become more virulent, according to research at Penn State University. The mice were injected with a critical component of several candidate human malaria vaccines that now are being evaluated in clinical trials. "Our research shows immunization with this particular type of malaria vaccine can create ecological conditions that favor the evolution of parasites that cause more severe disease in unvaccinated mice," said Andrew Read, Alumni Professor of Biological Sciences at Penn State.
"We are a long way from being able to assess the likelihood of this process occurring in humans, but our research suggests the need for vigilance. It is possible that more-virulent strains of malaria might evolve if a malaria vaccine goes into widespread use," Read said. The research, which is published in the 31 July 2012 issue of the scientific journal PLoS Biology, showed that more-virulent malaria parasites evolved in response to vaccination, but the exact mechanism is still a mystery. It was not due to changes in the part of the parasite targeted by the vaccine. Images and more information are online at http://www.science.psu.edu/news-and-events/2012-news/Read7-2012.
Temperature is an important factor in the spread of malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases, but researchers who look at average monthly or annual temperatures are not seeing the whole picture. Global climate change will affect daily temperature variations, which can have a more pronounced effect on parasite development, according to a Penn State entomologist."We need higher resolution environmental and biological data to understand how climate change will affect the spread of the malaria parasite," says Matthew Thomas, professor of entomology. We need to understand temperature from the point of view of the mosquito."