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Writing in the UK's Guardian newspaper, Rebecca Ratcliffe reports that a genetically modified fungus that kills malariacarrying mosquitoes could provide a breakthrough in the fight against the disease.

Trials in Burkina Faso found that a fungus, altered so that it produces a toxin found in the venom of a species of funnel-web spider, quickly killed large numbers of mosquitoes that carry malaria.

Within 45 days, mosquito populations were drastically reduced by more than 90%, according to researchers at the University of Maryland and the IRSS (Research Institute of Health Sciences) in Burkina Faso.

Researchers selected for modification a fungus, metarhizium pingshaense, which infects malaria-carrying mosquitoes naturally. Laboratory trials showed that the genetically altered version killed mosquitoes more quickly, with fewer spores, than wild fungus.

According to the study, reported in the journal Science, mosquitoes were released into a 6,500sq ft fake village, designed to imitate a real-life setting. Insects left in normal conditions soared in number, but those living in tent compartments infected with the fungus died rapidly.

The findings provide hope that new solutions to fighting malaria are in the pipeline, but the research is still in its early stages and would have to overcome significant regulatory barriers in order to be used in a real-life setting.

More than 400,000 die from the disease every year, according to the WHO, with more than half of the deaths among children aged under five years. In 2017, there were an estimated 219m cases of malaria in 87 countries.

Can spider toxin end malaria?

Abiy to plant 4bn trees Ethiopia’s game-changing PM Abiy Ahmed (above,centre) has announced a plan to plant over 4bn trees, under the National Green Development programme.

Although much of the country is green and fertile, climate change has meant that parts of the country suffer from severe drought during the dry season. Reports indicate that in 2017, over 2m animals died in Ethiopia due to drought.

Abiy held discussions with national agricultural transformation leaders in Adama city, in his home region of Oromia. He tasked participants – which included many high-profile government officials – on their role and responsibilities in ensuring Ethiopia’s green future.

“Over the past years, Ethiopia’s forest coverage has decreased and the initiative is set to mobilise national reforestation at 40 trees per head,” the PM’s office said in a social media post.

Algeria third malaria-free African country The World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced that Algeria is the third African country to have eradicated malaria, following Mauritius and Morocco.

“Algeria is where the malaria parasite was first discovered in humans almost a century and a half ago, and that was a significant milestone in responding to the disease,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa.

“Now Algeria has shown the rest of Africa that malaria can be beaten through country leadership, bold action, sound investment and science. The rest of the continent can learn from this experience.”

Although WHO has declared 38 countries malaria-free since 1955, the fight against malaria has stalled as malaria-carrying mosquitoes have become resistant to drugs and insecticides in bed nets that protect people from being bitten while sleeping.

The disease kills more than 400,000 people a year.

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