Mosquito Maven Takes Bites For Malaria Research
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
One of the quickest ways to fight malaria is to kill mosquitoes which spread it. While many people ponder how to do that, some scientists pursue the opposite goal, finding better ways to cultivate mosquitoes so researchers can study them.
NPR's Jason Beaubien caught up with a malaria researcher who passionately tends a colony of mosquitoes in Thailand.
JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Chiara Adolina refers to her mosquitoes affectionately as my girls. Because only female mosquitoes transmit malaria, this malaria researcher is far more interested in the females in her colony than the males.
CHIARA ADOLINA: The female mosquitoes bite just because they need the proteins of blood to make the shell of their eggs. So they're pregnant ladies.
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BEAUBIEN: As she's speaking, she extends her arm into a mosquito cage giving the insects, in her words, breakfast. Several dozen mosquitoes spread across her forearm and jam their proboscises into her skin.
ADOLINA: Can you see how fat they become? Look at the tummy.
BEAUBIEN: Adolina is raising this colony of mosquitoes at the Shoklo Malaria Research Unit, a remote research post on the Thai/Myanmar border. Her spotlessly clean laboratory is kept at a steady 28 degrees Centigrade. The mosquitoes buzz about in file-box sized cages.
So if they don't eat off of you, they won't lay the eggs?
ADOLINA: They will die probably, yeah. That's why when you see mosquitoes and they really want to bite you, it's not because they're hungry. They really need to lay the eggs so they need their blood meal.
BEAUBIEN: Most of the mosquitoes on her arm now have dark swollen bellies, but they're still trying to probe into her skin some more.
ADOLINA: Sometimes - now they're feeding. Sometimes they get - look, they're all fed. But now there will come others. They feed maybe five minutes. But some of them, they're just trying to find the capillary. They just go around and it takes longer.
BEAUBIEN: A few minutes after the mosquitoes have filled themselves on Adolina's blood, most of the bite marks on her skin have disappeared. She says her body has gotten used to the bites and they hardly itch any more.
In addition to her cages of adult mosquitoes, the Italian scientist has to tend to the creatures during the egg, the larvae and pupae stages too.
ADOLINA: The - well, I work on malaria transmission. So I study the biology of the parasite of malaria inside the mosquito.
BEAUBIEN: She's working with a drug that tries to kill the parasite inside people during an asymptomatic stage of the infection, at a time when the person hasn't yet shown signs of being sick. The goal is to stop the parasite from moving back and forth between humans and mosquitoes.
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ADOLINA: ...it's a clever parasite. It's really clever, really, really clever - so there's always a way to escape or to survive. You know?
BEAUBIEN: While working in Britain a few years ago, Adolina was able to feed her mosquitoes on reheated rabbit's blood from a blood bank. Here in Thailand however she has mosquitoes that will only dine on live human blood.
ADOLINA: Mosquitoes in Asia are really, really difficult to rear, really difficult; very delicate, very spoiled. If you put them in a cage, they won't mate.
BEAUBIEN: Which means she has to artificially inseminate each tiny female in the colony.
ADOLINA: It's very difficult. It takes lots of time.
BEAUBIEN: All this so that she's able to study these mosquitoes and the potentially deadly parasites inside them.
Jason Beaubien, NPR News.
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