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German researchers propose using plankton to control malaria

Improving the biodiversity of ponds and lakes in malaria-endemic regions could offer a powerful and sustainable way to control malaria.

A common mosquito-controlling strategy is to apply biological insecticides, such as Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti) — a bacterium that produces toxins that target mosquito larvae. Because of this precise impact, Bti treatment preserves more biodiversity than chemicals such as DDT, which are lethal to most species.

But Bti breaks down in the environment after a few days, making secondary mosquito outbreaks possible if there are no natural predators or competitors to keep mosquito larvae levels low.

Now researchers from two German institutions have shown how diverse communities of mosquito-eating crustaceans — tiny plankton-like creatures from the same family as crabs — can keep the larval populations in check by out-competing them.

The authors say their work shows for the first time that crustaceans can be more effective at sustainably suppressing mosquito larval populations than Bti treatment.