As one of the primary carriers of malaria, the Anopheles gambiae mosquito is one of the most dangerous animals in the world. Now efforts to wipe out malaria must succeed quickly, because it's rapidly evolving into two separate species.
Malaria infects two hundred million people a year, and killed nearly 900,000 people in 2009. Many efforts to stop the spread of the disease involved targetting the different strains of the Anopheles gambiae mosquito. Researchers at Imperial College London have found that two strains which are physically identical but have genetic variations at 400,000 points in their genome. The variations are not likely to converge. In fact, Dr Mara Lawniczak of Imperial College London says they're diverging quickly:
From our new studies, we can see that mosquitoes are evolving more quickly than we thought and that unfortunately, strategies that might work against one strain of mosquito might not be effective against another. It's important to identify and monitor these hidden genetic changes in mosquitoes if we are to succeed in bringing malaria under control by targeting mosquitoes.
There is no clear answer to the question of what is driving this divergence. Whatever it is, it could lead to differences in breeding, feeding, or bodily development between these two strains. This means that any strategy which targets breeding sites, or advises people to avoid certain places where mosquitos feed, may simply replace one malaria carrier with another. More studies are planned to research the genetic differences more thoroughly.