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We've found a microbe that might someday protect us from malaria parasites, and bees might have help with their jobs soon, thanks to bubble pollination!

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Go to to learn how you can take your STEM skills to the next level. [♪ INTRO]. Okay.

Everybody take a deep breath with me, right into the gut there. Stimulate your vagus nerve. We're gonna continue to do our best to keep you informed on the ongoing pandemic.

But non-COVID-19-related science hasn't ground to a halt. And there's some news we can share that's good and also, like, fun. So today, let's talk about that.

Last month, researchers based in Kenya and the UK announced that they'd found a microbe that protects mosquitoes from being infected by malaria parasites. Since mosquitoes pass that infection along to humans, that microbe could protect us from the parasites, too. Malaria, caused by protozoans belonging to the genus Plasmodium, is estimated to have infected 228 million people in 2018 alone.

But not all mosquitoes pass on malaria, and they carry way more with them than just Plasmodium parasites. Insects' microbiomes include a whole host of bacteria and other microbes. And some of these microbes can interfere with insects' ability to pass on disease, something researchers are very interested in taking advantage of.

Writing in the journal Nature Communications, the team identified a harmless organism called Microsporidia MB that lives inside the ovaries of female mosquitoes. It occurs naturally in less than nine percent of mosquitoes, but is passed on by the females to their offspring. Researchers saw that mosquitoes who had these microsporidia tended not to have Plasmodium.

When they looked at the mosquitoes more closely in the lab, they noticed that the microsporidia were ramping up the mosquitoes' immune systems by increasing the expression of certain genes. They say that could be one way that the microsporidia are blocking malaria infection, but they think that there's more to the story they haven't uncovered yet. The researchers think that Microsporidia MB could be a natural way to control malaria worldwide, by manipulating the number of mosquitoes who are infected and thereby limiting their ability to pass on malaria.

This strategy has a name, it's called symbiotic control, and it could be used in combination with other strategies, like nets, to help beat malaria. It's not yet clear how researchers would increase the number of mosquitoes with Microsporidia MB, but other mosquito-control strategies have relied on modifying bugs in the lab and then releasing them into the wild. And there might be a way of doing that by using drones.

See, in a separate paper just published in the journal Science Robotics, another team of researchers showed that mosquitoes can be efficiently spread using uncrewed aerial vehicles. They were interested in introducing sterile male mosquitoes to compete with fertile ones to drive the overall population down. And they concluded the drone strategy worked pretty well.

Drones were both cheaper than releasing sterile mosquitoes by hand, and distributed them more evenly. It remains to be seen whether the two strategies will be combined, but maybe we could see malaria-resistant mosquitoes spread by drone as well. In other news, researchers from the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology have found a pretty delightful new way to pollinate flowers using bubbles.

Right now we rely on insect pollinators like bees, but insecticide use and climate change mean that there are fewer of them out there to do the job. In a paper published in iScience, the researchers showed how to use a regular old bubble gun, just like the children's toy, to load up soap bubbles with around two thousand pollen grains. They even super-charged their bubble solution with minerals and gelatin to help the pollen germinate.

When they shot the bubbles at pear flowers, they found pollen grains stuck to the flowers' reproductive organs and doing their job fertilizing them the next day. And the number of flowers that became fruits after sixteen days was about the same as if they'd used the old-school artificial pollination technique of brushing pollen onto flowers by hand. But the researchers wanted to see if they could go completely hands free.

So once again, we're back to drones. Their robotic pollinator shot out five thousand bubbles a minute. They had to carefully control its speed, or the wind made by the drone could pop the delicate bubbles.

They tweaked the bubble chemistry to make the bubbles stronger, as well. After some adjustments, they reached a ninety percent bubble landing success rate. The researchers hope that bubble pollination could be a good alternative to insect pollination if and when insects aren't available.

And it's less labor-intensive than having people pollinate the flowers by hand. Plus, flying a bubble-pollination drone around sounds like a very good summer job. Calculus is the mathematics of curves, change, and infinity.

But if you've heard it's super hard and inaccessible, there's a Brilliant course that might just change your mind. It's called Calculus in a Nutshell, and it'll introduce you to all the basic pieces, derivatives, integrals, and limits, with interactive quizzes and guided problems to show you how everything works. With it, calculus can be not only clear, it can be, dare I say, fun.

And Brilliant has tons of other courses available too, so if you're looking for new stuff to learn, you might want to head over and check them out at The first 200 people to sign up there will get 20% off their annual premium subscription. [♪ OUTRO].